Maria Matinmikko

- Finland -

Maria Matinmikko is a Finnish poet and prose author. She has published four books: Valkoinen ("White", 2012), Musta("Black", 2013), Värit ("Color", 2017) ja Kolkka ("Niche", 2019). Her first three collections together compose a three-part literary work. The fourth is a fragmentary poetry novel. Matinmikko's literature moves on the edges of genre, combining lyrical, philosophical, and societal thinking in various ways. Her most recent work Kolkka was longlisted for the esteemed Runeberg Prize; Valkoinen won national broadcaster Yle's Dancing Bear Poetry Prize and was in the running for the Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize for debut books; Värit received the Kalevi Jäntti literary prize, awarded by the Nihil Interit collective, and was chosen as book of the year on the online Finnish library portal Kirjasampo.


In addition to her personal oeuvre, Matinmikko was one of the fourteen authors from the writers' group Mahdollisen kirjallisuuden seura ("Association of possible literature") who composed a collaborative poetry novel together in 2016, called Ihmiskokeita ("Human experiments"). The first instalment of a digital, collaborative, and procedural work called Lähes tunnistamaton mahdollisuus menettää ("An almost unrecognizable opportunity for loss") was released in 2018.


Matinmikko's essays, poems, prose excerpts, columns, and manifestos have been published through various media, including poetry magazine Tuli & Savu, cultural magazine Nuori Voima, philosophical magazine niin & näin, in an anthology commissioned by the Finnish Innovation Fund (Sitra), and on national broadcaster Yle's website. She has also conducted writing workshops and created performances; she is on the board of the dance festival called Liikkeellä marraskuussa.


Maria Matinmikko graduated as a Master of the Arts from the University of Helsinki, with a major in aesthetics. She has studied writing in the Orivesi College of Arts, Kallio upper secondary school, and liberal education center Oulu-opisto. Her hobbies include photography and dance. She is the mother of one child.

The writer who writes writing – the diverse works of Maria Matinmikko


A common conception of the human body is that our corporeal form is an internal experience, whereas the outside world is composed of other distinct things. In the writing of Maria Matinmikko these categories, like many others, mix or meld to generate new constellations.


In her poetry collection Värit ("Colors", 2017) Matinmikko transports the reader to "the shores of the lake of internal organs" (p. 24), while in her verse novel Kolkka ("Niche", 2019) "the air pressure, lighting, and menstrual cycle draw constellations as they merge" (p. 45). A person's corporeality defines and delimits their observation in very concrete ways, but then again the human body makes possible endless combinations and metamorphoses; it connects with its environment in ever more creative forms.


The poet herself has said in an interview that she has defined the genre of her work in a straightforward but also highly permissive way: she is "a writer who writes writing" (qtd. Parnasso, 2017). Matinmikko's four-book oeuvre has become increasingly difficult to categorize. These works may be called hybrid literature, which brings poetic expression into prose and makes use of a broad range of methods, from visual art compositions to personal journalling, from essays to aphorisms.


Matinmikko's writing often organizes into fragments whose interrelationships are marked by tension. In Värit, these may be prose paragraphs many pages long, but occasionally only a single phrase sticks out of the otherwise blank page. A fragment often seems to require space around it, emptiness and paper-whiteness, in the midst of which its strange and polysemic glow is amplified.


Matinmikko's first three books compose a so-called "color trilogy", which are all easily recognizable as being written by the same author, even though their subjects and topics are different. Matinmikko entered the Finnish literary world as a fully formed and idiosyncratic creator, but in all her publications she has also taken her artistry in new directions.


Valkoinen ("White", 2012) appears to highlight the sense of space, emptiness, and silence. It is full of mist and fog, in whose shapelessness the verbal meanings are allowed the peace to develop. The follow-up, Musta("Black", 2013), is elemental and earthy, filled with blooming and lyrical prose as if rising out of the soil, and creates a more tangible reading experience than its predecessor.


The mentioned third installation, Värit, flies up into the sky as courageous, flamboyant rainbow poetry, which also comes to form the basis for her later verse novel. It is a rare thing to encounter authors who are able to create such utterly separate and different worlds within works through their own powerful style. Comparisons that spring to mind include masters of their craft such as Marguerite Duras or Mirkka Rekola.


Certainly Matinmikko's writing also includes a declarative, dryly humorous tone and manner of cataloguing even the oddest of phenomena, as if to assert that everything going on in the books were perfectly ordinary, at times simply mildly amusing. The author does not inform the reader on what they should be upset or excited by, and instead allows for an actively participatory reading process that generates spontaneous discoveries.


Matinmikko's books are journeys to places that are both within and without the bodily human experience. In Kolkka, the trip's destination is (in reference to Finnish-Swedish modernist Edith Södergran) "a land that does not exist".


Kolkka simultaneously delivers a feminist utopia and dystopia, where the shores of the non-existent land gives rise to lifestyles based on the blossoming of the spectrum of gender identities, whereas the landlocked interiors are plagued by a state of war and oppression. Yet nothing is labeled as outright good or bad; even the sorriest of niches opens up to the attentive observer as multi-faceted and changing, as a multi-layered entity.


Kolkka is, nonetheless, more directly political than her previous work in its entirety. The novel not only creates a nuanced and meaningful world, but also actively opposes all atempts to blunt the diversity in gender, conscious experience, and nature itself.


In the novel, soliders who call themselves "peacekeepers" form an archetype that is both terrifying and comedic: "These professionals of peace surprisingly revitalize a cult in their home country that was forgotten a thousand years ago. The cult holds that their leader will arise from the place where these two things converge: they will be able to express the simplest plan for the future and they will have a renowned sexual member."


The cult appears to remain faithful to the past, even though it is actually barely a gaunt mockery of all the possibilities of conscious experience obscured by history: "I think about the buried worldscapes and civilizations, who still live as layers in the earth and in our mental histories. – I think about completely different ways of being in a personal relationship, to record time, to communicate with animals."


Matinmikko has, in addition to her own works, sought to actively discover new or previously silenced ways of writing and reading. She also took part in a collective novel written by herself and thirteen other authors called Ihmiskokeita ("Human experiments"), and has released an online work together with Markku Eskelinen called Lähes tunnistamaton mahdollisuus menettää ("An almost unrecognizable opportunity for loss") (LINK: The duration of the reading experience alters the contents of the writing, creating a unique interpretation every time.


Vesa Rantama

Translated by Kasper Salonen