Helsingin Poetiikkakonferenssi – The Helsinki Poetics Conference
Helsinki 22.8.2005

Teema / Theme 4: Vastarinta / Resistance

A commentary on Olli Sinivaara’s Keynote Address at the Helsinki Poetics Conference 22 August 2005

Translated by Elina Valovirta
Finnish original

Olli Sinivaara opposes resistance as a subject. This means that for him it is more important to ask the question ’how’ rather than ’what’. Sinivaara also opposes the shortness of time given to his speech. In addition, he talks about ’a language made inane”, against which stands the language of poetry.

These three issues tell us something about Sinivaara’s position: when it comes to the history of poetry, his is a modernist perspective. It tells us of situational conditionality concerning language and the language of poetry. Time, referring to modern time and the time of modernist poetry in the case of Sinivaara, produces modernist questions. It makes possible certain ways of reading and brackets others. It also follows, then, that only a specific type of resistance becomes possible. I oppose this scenario, which is marked by a hierarchical, mutually exclusive juxtaposition. Instead, I would rather wish to speak of a broader notion of resistance or – in order to emphasize the questions of embodiment and gender – resistances.

The language of poetry is not simply about the form. Language always produces meanings, whether we wanted or not. Therefore, ’what’ is said remains important despite its connection to the form in poetry, that is, to the question of ’how’. Poetic language both builds a site and a home as well as dismantles, deconstructs, calls into question and wonders. It remains unsolved.

This possibility of radical resistance is the domain of readership. The dialogic nature of the word has to do with reaching out toward the other, the poem’s reader and listener. The reader does not stand opposed to the poem; reading is about grasping, intertwining, touching. But the reader is also faced with the question of unresolvability, which remains the problem for the reader to solve. Here the connection to material conditions becomes central, as a reading operates contextually tied to cultural and historical time, place and situation.

It is difficult, even impossible, for a reader to be cognizant of the contextual conditions of her time. Therefore it is crucial to re-read history, old poetry and their reception, as well as to re-examine old reading practices. This might give us access to the following question: What was it at a particular given time that was made silent, idiosyncratic, irritating, or something that one could not, was not able to, or did not want to read?

The answers to this question might have to do with cultural injustices, for example with the pain and sorrow of becoming a woman. The point is, whether we are able to read, whether it touches the reader, and who is the reader that becomes touched by these instances? In particular: What happens next? Does the reader’s being moved and touched become a part of the agenda of important issues? Or does it vanish without a trace?

Poetry can be the site for scraping out scum and draining gunk. There might be historical, known but unacknowledged, irritating gunk, which must be re-drained as it has not been able to stick to its readers, yet. For something to ’stick’, a reader’s responsibility is required, a desire to encounter and resolve one’s own othernesses, and create new reading practices.

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