Thursday, June 17, 2021

Monday, December 31, 2018

France and Spain, Old Friends and New

My last weekend in Finland, I took the train from Helsinki to Tampere, where I performed my  sauna poems in between Angie Pohja's blue band's hot melodies at the funky Gobi Desert Canoe Club Bar,  and then to cap off a fantastic weekend at Angie's home with Tommi, Lilja, Ella, and Niko, Angie and I went to sweat and freeze at the Rauhaniemen  public sauna. I only made it into cold Lake Näsijärvi up to my knees. Joining us were Lilja and my friend and fellow ecocritic/poet, Toni Lahtinen

Then, off to Paris, where I met up with BMCC colleague also on sabbatical, the wonderful Page Delano who is a fabulous tour guide of all the Paris insurgents of the WW II period, especially women journalists, authors and agitators. We missed the yellow vest protests against Macron  by a few weeks! Paris is always a blast, and I visited the lovely Jardin Des Plants and Gallery L'Orangerie where  Page and I experienced the revelation of the art of Portuguese pastellist, painter and sculptor Paula Rego, the only female artist of the "London Group"  We agreed that there was a mixture of surreal, sacred, and baroque  in her work.

After Paris, I traveled to Montpellier at the invitation of Nadia Vigel, who I had met a few years ago on a boat trip on Lake Powell in Utah. Nadia is a fabulous cook and generous guide, and she took me to visit the most beautiful sights in the Languedoc-Roussillion area of the south of France, as well as Uzès, a stunning village north of Nimes. We explored, ate fabulous French food and drank the local wines which are sublime and inexpensive. Thank you so much Nadia!

Here I am enjoying a marvelous lunch of seafood in the main square of Uzès with Nadia and her sister.  Nadia also showed me St. Guilhem-le-Desert, and Sète, "Venice of the Languedoc" because of its canals and boats. Here are from the Mount Sinclair overlooking the city. We also discovered a wonderful small museum that had artists from Congo who use "found materials" to make all their works. 

Final stops--Madrid and Toledo, Spain. While in the La Mancha town, (as a huge fan of Don Quixote, I was thrilled to pass through this part of Spain) I visited a medieval synagogue with Jade, whom I met on the bus ride from Madrid to Toledo. Jade is originally from Ghana, but she grew up in Germany, and is now studying pre-med under the Erasmus program and taking a semester in Spain and the Canary Islands. We had a fantastic afternoon exploring the gorgeous sights. I am so grateful to have met so many wonderful people and visited these amazing places. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Aapa Mires, Sami Art, St. Petersburg, and Performing as Scholar and Poet in Helsinki and Tampere

 What an amazing month this has been!  Sad to be leaving Finland today for Paris, but such rich opportunities and beauty I've beheld. With Marjorie Shaffer at the wheel of our rented hyrid car, we crossed bridges over Appa Mire in Pyha Luosto National Park, the Juutuanjoki River in Inari and found a

gorgeous spot to meditate on Lake Inari. Visiting the Siida Museum and seeing a new show of Sami art and activism, including new work by Marja Helander
I also saw the Northern Lights on Oct. 7 in Rovaniemi, in Mike and Iris' s back yard of all places!  What a show. I screamed so loud when I came upon the flashing lights like a ribbon undulating Mike thought his house was on fire.  This is a video on You Tube of some of what I saw
In St. Petersburg after a Visa-free cruise from Helsinki, Marjorie and I visited the Palace Square where the statue of Peter reigns and the Hermitage's many buildings ensure hours of gawking at art from Leonardo to Rembrandt. 
We dined on Russian locavore cuisine at a place called Jack & Hamlet. 
I have to check out of my room in Helsinki or I'd have a lot more to say. My flash fiction piece "Grade Book" was published by CheapPopLit.   Let me know your thoughts on it.

On Oct. 16, I gave a talk and had a great conversation with those who attended on Sami Film and Eco Media in response to Extractivism in Sapmi at the Helsinki Environmental Humanities Seminar. Thanks to Viktor Pal, Mikko Saiku, and Inna Sukhenko for making this happen. I see myself as an ally who is interested in international soladarity between indigenous and non-indigenous persons.

Finally, I re-united with Angie Pohja and her family--Tomi, Lilja, Ella and Nikko, and had a wonderful time in Tampere where I first developed my love of Finland, sauna, giant lakes and heavy metal attitude (if not the music per se). Angie and her blues band performed at the Gobi Desert Canoe Club Bar and I did a set of my "sauna poems" plus some red-hot pizza break up and other poems. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ruska in Finland; Wonderful days at KulttuuriKauppila (still hard to spell and say) in Ii, and Anthropology in Vienna

Ruska in Northern Finland means the beauty of autumn light, yellow leaves, temps in the 30s and 40s, the possibility of clouds, rain and snow. It's getting dark earlier. My last week here in Ii included writing, long walks and bike rides, dinner with Antti and his family (he made moose steak with grilled local mushrooms in cream sauce).  I was rowed home from a party by a father and son about whom I wrote a new poem (here's a small bit of draft).

"The father rows, oars up and over shell. Sturdy certainty of a river's current, home from Illinsaari. The 20-something son's tangled hair in his face. He rolls his own cigarettes and smells of them."

 I took a big car ferry to the island of
Hailuoto, in the Gulf of Bothnia, with a population of about 1000. I was generously welcomed by Sanna and her husband Aki who organize a popular music festival on the island in summer, BattreFolk and who are planning to make their artist and writers' residency an international one. I stayed in this lovely room one night and met Finnish poet Silja
Jarventausta We had a l smoke sauna in the evening and talked poetry. I will come back!

 I was invited to give a talk on American Literature by Heini Perttula of KulttuuriKappila and librarian Minna Halonen at the local public library.  I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on the importance of slave narratives, the poetry of Whitman and Dickinson, the Thoreau of "Civil Disobedience" and the environmental ethos of Walden which Finns can relate to. I also took questions on and spoke of writers like Kate Chopin, Junot Diaz and Toni Morrison, Elizabeth Strout. The audience was interested in the #metoo  movement. Some of the books were available in English and some in Finnish; some local people attended, and graduate students at nearby University of Oulu. Just like in the U.S., Finns are reading less literature and spending more time on line.  In these photos to the left (I need a haircut!) I am being interviewed by Anni-Sofia Kauppila for an article in a cultural magazine of Northern Finland that will come out in December. Thanks to Anni-Sofia and Jan Aqvist for this piece on how my writing and research are informed by Finland and the work of Sami artists.

  I went to Vienna to the Vienna Anthropology Days conference  where I presented my talk on Sami response to mining and extraction on a three-session panel on art and violence. The papers were fascinating; I did get emotional over one that was about kids in Austria who were given chocolate guns made by an artist; the kids were filmed by her collaborator as they attacked each other by ambush and took bites out of the guns too. For Americans, I said to the filmmaker and audience, our children are being shot with real guns and it's not something to easily parody.  I don't know if he understood.

Klimt!  Vienna has amazing grandeur in its former palaces and residences, many of which are now museums, but I only went to one. The Hapsburg dynasty ruled in southern Europe for so many years and was ostentatious about showing off its wealth and power. I took a walking tour in the short time I had. Guides in Austria must study for two-years to learn the history and take a test, so they are great.

This past week, my flash fiction piece "Grade Book" was published by Cheap Pop Lit.

Thanks to the editors for publishing it. Give me your thoughts! Hope you are all well and enjoying autumn. I am on my way to Lapland--taking a road trip with friend Marjorie from NYC.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sami Activism Inspiring My Research

The Sami along with other first nations leaders from Canada and New Zealand have been in Finland not far from where I am living to protest a planned railway development though the Boreal Forest. The railroad would encourage more mining, forestry and other industrial development as climate change means melting Arctic sea and industry has its eye on a path to cut through areas important to the Sami for reindeer herding and for their way of life. I can't keep up with all the activism and amazing film, video, protest art and other eco-media being made in resistant to colonization and extractivism. I knew when Standing Rock took place in North Dakota it would inspire global protests..luckily these are peaceful and I haven't heard of police showing up just yet. It is significant that the Sami and allies speak out as they are ignored by the Finnish government even though the Sami have rights in the Finnish constitution. I spoke with two researchers at University of Oulu who were very helpful to me, Marko Jouste and Hannu Heikkinen.  I am preparing for my 
presentation at Vienna Anthropology Days
 and I am not organized because I can't
mention all the new material that I am
finding here.  It will be my first time at
an anthropology conference and my first time in Vienna.

Meanwhile, I went to Oulu, the bigger town around here but still a small city.

 I am standing with Sanna Koivisto's sculpture Course of Time, which shows all the various people in history from King Charles IX when Sweden ruled Finland, to a postman, a society lady, a shopkeeper and a female doctor. Sanna is one of the founders of the KulttuuriKauppila residency and art park and my good neighbor with whom I had my first sauna session of this trip...She also inspired a poem I am working on. Here is the link to the description of me that the residency put on line:

There is a wonderful Environmental Art Park in Ii, and I am including some photos of the art from there, many of whom held the residency here, or were part of the ART Ii Biennale held every two years. The one in 2016 focused on Sami artivism.

Chairs in the art park
Lena Stenberg's Upside Down
Jenni Laiti and Outi Pieski's "Forewalkers" about the
Sami philosophy of "soabalas eallin"preserving, protecting
and supporting diversity in nature and humans.

Antti ready for mushroom picking although the best ones were gone.

edible mushrooms picked
with Antti and cooked later

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Ii (Pronounced Eeee) Is said to Be a Modification of a Sami Word For Place to Stay Overnight

 I met Heini and Sanna, two of the
folks who make this place run!

Sanna took me for a walk in the woods, and I met her dog and chickens.
After working on a new poem and having my official artist-in-residence photograph taken, I went for a swim
in the Ii river. Cold even for me, and no sauna before! The temperature here is mid-60s but going down to the 50s.  Signs of autumn everywhere as I  pick bilberries, similar to blueberries but smaller. The lingonberries are  out too, tart and red.  I had them with my yogurt for breakfast, and also ate local apples.

KultuuriKauppila is know for its  ART Ii Biennale and in the woods near the residency, you can see the MY NAME IS NATURE: Please Fuck Me sign made by Sami artist Carola Grahn
who I met in New York a couple of years ago. Not everyone around here is pleased with this, but I think it makes a necessary statement.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Heading to One Month Writing Residency at Art Centre Kulttuurikauppila in Ii, Finland

Nervous. I will be living in a red wooden house in the small town of Ii, Finland, along the Gulf of Bothnia, north of the city of Oulu, for the month of September. But also thrilled.  I guess it may be lonely, and I may hear things at night.

There will be no other residents who sleep there, but a few artists studios are in the same building, including Antti Leinonen,  who I met in New York when he was visiting and studying photography, and he is a friend of the wonderful Finnish Sami artist I have written about, Marja Helander   so I feel blessed to have that connection in Finland, one of my newer ones. I thank the chain of friendships and links to artists and creative souls that fuel my writing and poetry, such as this poem, published recently in HANGING LOOSE   a short excerpt:


Can I use my miles to get more miles?
They never expire. Flea market to closet.
A calm naked swim in Simhall, then smoke sauna.

Have a Lapin Kulta Premium. Find out who's where.
Angie's singing. She sways and scat sings, the guitar rolls...

Annika shows me where they wash rugs with a brush in the Gulf of Finland.

This photo was taken at a smoke sauna outside of Helsinki just before it caught on fire. It inspired my poem, "The Thin Man at Kuusiarvi Sauna," that appeared in NEW AMERICAN WRITING 36 (BUY A COPY and support this excellent journal edited by Paul Hoover)  Here is the first verse:

The thin man in the cap at Kuusijarvi sauna 
makes it hot enough to melt a stone. When he throws water steam hisses
in the small wooden room.
Lips sear off my face.
He cultivates heat like wanton love.

Anyway, I hope to continue working on more poems inspired by Kalevala, the Finnish epic, Sami folklore and current Sami political struggles and how they relate to environmental and social justice, blended with personal adventure, sense of play,  and riffing on my outsider status as a visitor in Finland and as a scholar of Sami (sometimes spelled Saami) film and eco-media who is not Sami or Finnish. Love to hear from you!