Sunday, October 21, 2007


Attended the Nordic Literary Festival today, where Rachel was reading from Hannus. Not surprisingly, this was a very different sort of event from the flash and glam of last night's Poetry Bash. Didn't know quite what to expect. The event's organizer, a Finnish-Canadian man named Henry Lahti who has been for some time the galvanizing force behind Scandinavian cultural happenings in BC, died two weeks ago of a brain aneurysm. Naturally, he would have wished the festival to go on, but no one else really knew what was what. You wouldn't have known it to see the festival today. Everything went off without a hitch and the 40-odd people in attendance all left enriched.

Besides Rachel, there was Karen Autio, a children's novelist of Finnish descent from Kelowna, and Pessi Parviainen, a young man from Finland doing an MFA at SFU, whose thesis is a work of musical drama based on family stories and legends in Canada (Pessi described himself as a fourth-generation habitual migrant; he himself came to Canada first as a very young boy and stayed a couple of years before his family moved back to Finland). Three very different artists, but there were some fascinating points of intersection.

Most notably, something both thematic and structural that all three shared was gaps and bridges. A recent review of Rachel's book suggests that the story was weakened by the author's lack of confidence in an authoritative version of things. This is naive at best, as any historian or novelist can tell you, but particularly blind to the very importance of such lacunae and narrative layers in the sort of pieced-together patchwork she was making. Far from a lack of confidence, the approaches Rachel took, very deliberately and consciously, evince intelligence and respect for the reader. But some readers don't want respect, I guess, they just want to be led along by the nose. At any rate, it was certainly something that the mostly non-literary audience at today's festival appreciated and they voted with their wallets, scooping up a baker's dozen of Rachel's book. Interestingly, of the responses she's got from professional writers, novelists have cottoned on to what she's up to far more readily than poets. The reviewer I mention above certainly seemed to want the book to be something it had no intention of being, even referring to Hannus as a "collection," which it patently is not.

Following the readings and Pessi's presentation, there was a panel discussion moderated by UBC prof Mads Bunch, who posed interesting questions and received very thoughtful responses from all three. After that, there was some music and bilingual readings from Finnish poetry, blended with a presentation on the life of a 19th C Finnish poet, whose name escapes me now.

One thing this festival did have in common with the Poetry Bash was that after it ended, we went out into the poring rain and motorbiked home. Fortunately, the Scandinavian Community Centre is much closer to our place than Granville Island.

1 comment:

Eric Orchard said...

Mr. Parvienen's stuff looks really cool, very interesting. As for the revue-it's good the book is talked about. (no, I'm not paraphrasing Oscar Wilde!)Just got news on an exciting project, I'll tell you more later.