I spent 1 month @ Kantola house, a refugium just south of Kotka in Finland, 160 kms East of Helsinki, in a Baltic Sea inlet once a large fishing harbour, and right across from the paper mill, part owner of the Kantola artists’ refugium in partnership with the commune of Kantola.

Most days didn’t look like this.

It looked like this

or this

But it the last days of my self imprisonment then sun came out in all its glory, and lo and behold what a marvelous month it had been, and it didn’t even feel like anything 30 days looks like in the mind, calculating fear of isolation, darkness and low, low temperatures. The sun is such a powerful, beloved force, staying at the exact distance that is does.

Some say it looks and feels better in the summer, as brief and short as any Scandinavian summer. But there is something about the harshness that is appealing. Can’t say I like it, but in a way it’s like camping on a windy ledge, tethered to the cliff wall, and you know you’ll be safe, but then again, you are not sure. That kind of feeling roughing you up. And… some say the Finnish women are particularly feisty. Haven’t tried the taste my selv, so I can’t say, but if true it may possibly be from surviving the Finnish winter.

If writing is too lonely or too hard, or lack of company is getting to you, there is Poetry Slam – in Finnish, naturally, but you CAN give poems in three languages, including Finnish from machine translation, to applause, and witness the passing of a 1yr achievement award: a cow with wings (if only they could fly…!)

You can also make new friends: Hello Marko, soon off to Afghanistan for 6 months, may luck and love follow you (that shouldn’t be hard, my good man)

and Petri, Cultural Organizer with his hands in lots of things, may the forces guide you to all supports of your efforts to show Kotka they have much to be proud of.

And then there was the journalist, Matti, who wanted an interview with the foreign poet, and pumped me for information on poetry, body stance, intonation and the finer points of Poetry Slam, when he wasn’t showing off his dvd with his killing and skinning of a female 250 kg Elk…as diversion, so as to pump me some more. Yes, it was a fine Elk, Matti … Looking forward to the article. 🙂

The papermill is gonna sell their part of the house, is what I heard when I arrived. Falling prices on pulp means they had to sack all the workers and begin dismantling the mill. Just before I left, they stopped the negotiations with the union, rehired all workers and re-started the factory, as the price of pulp went up $.30 to the ton – but only for 6 months, then they will close… The town probably wont buy their part of the house – for one it might be too expensive, if the mill wants marked value for it, and besides, listening to people the attitude of the commune politicians seems to be one of: “What do we need foreign artists here for? How are they gonna do Kotka any good?!”

Well, what do artists do anywhere? They look at the land, the people, the animals, the options, the connections, the produce, the arts and local culture, and they go and tell other people about it. Maybe they brand a name – mention a previously un-mentioned town (in art circles) in southern Finland out of hundreds of towns, all with their own particular identity, but nothing international to bragg with, and this town rises out of obscurity and into the world’s eyes, and ears. It is not a free process as celebreties can testify, but for those who care to address such challanges as attention can bring, things can develop in quite un-expected ways. And there is nothing un-expected about Karaoke, Finnish or otherwise, even if a karaoke bar can have those moments of wonder – such as the flabby, un-spectacular young woman singing her heart out in a big voice that could go far, if she was ever inspired to develop a musical taste of her own.

Alva Aalto build the house, by the way. Don’t tell anyone I said it’s modernism at its naked birth, with only the internal layout in any way attractive. Because you don’t come here to write or compose or paint to be distracted by architecture – unless, of course, you’re addicted to modernism – you come here to sleep well, make your own hours, cook your own food, and to go out on excursions across the peninsula, to Kotka, the supermarked, and to the near-by bar, whose regulars from hear-say are indifferent to the differences of languages different from their own and will willingly and without need of assistence tell you everthing about something in Finnish for as long as you care to hear.

Life in Kantola is easy. You have an open mind, they have an open mind.

For information on stays in KANTOLA

Petri Pietiläinen
Kulttuurisuunnittelija/Cultural co-ordinator
Kotkan kulttuuriasiainkeskus/Kotka Cultural Centre
Keskuskatu 33, FIN-48100 Kotka

p/tel. +358-5-234 4494
mobile +358-400-608 997
fax +358-5-234 4274

text and images: Kenneth Krabat nov-dec 2009

Author: krabat

digter, forlægger, oversætter, admin på kunstnerhotellet menneske.dk

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