Tiina Lehikoinen

- Finland -

Tiina Lehikoinen (b. 1982) is a writer and visual artist who thrives on the boundaries between genres. She is known for feminist and deep ecological themes. 

Lehikoinen has published six collections of poetry, out of which Sitruunalumilyhtyjä [“Lemon Snow Lanterns”] (2008) won the Aphorism Book of the Year Award, Samaan aikaan toisaalla [Meanwhile Elsewhere] (2013) was a Tiiliskivi Prize nominee, Multa [Soil] (2016) was nominated for the Tanssiva Karhu Award in poetry and Terra Nova (2019) was awarded the City of Tampere Literature Prize. Lehikoinen's most recent work is the essayistic novel Punelma (2022), which was nominated for the Runeberg Prize.

Alongside her fiction work, she has been the editor in chief of the poetry magazine Tuli&Savu together with Jouni Teittinen. Lehikoinen has been editing the online literature magazine Noesis, writing essays and textbook articles, editing books, and teaching creative writing for many years. Lehikoinen has a master’s degree in both philosophy and visual arts. Her seventh collection of poetry will be published in spring 2024.


Reaching over time and space – the multiplicities of Tiina Lehikoinen’s work

 

Tiina Lehikoinen’s body of work is in its very essence multi-disciplinary, feminist, and deep ecological. In her work she explores the intersections of different literary styles and categories. Lehikoinen has published six collections of poetry, two collections of short stories and most recently a novel that incorporates essayistic, intertextual, and historical elements.

In Lehikoinen’s work intertextual and factual elements are often woven into fiction or poetic telling in ways that create a sense of multiple point of views and overlapping passages of time. For example, in Terra Nova(2019) Lehikoinen carries along the historical evidence of Christopher Columbus’s exploitative exploration of America and combines it with a present-day narrator’s experience around the same areas. Time and place are in constant movement as the language turns to look at itself. Instead of the frantic, straightforward movement of colonial “progress”, Lehikoinen’s language is multiplying and quivering as it is stating and addressing. The wording intents to cross not only the categories of history and nationality, but also the category of human.

In her poetry collection Multa [Soil] (2016) Lehikoinen outlines the point where language starts to decay. The degradation of individual memory connects to the memory of soil and the inevitable circulation of nature. Multa is an individual pair to the later Terra Nova (2019) since both works deal with time and the human influence on the processes of the Earth. 

In Kukkien kapina [The Rebellion of Flowers] (2020) Lehikoinen reinvents the stories that are deeply rooted in the cultural understanding of humanity: fairy tales. The collection of short stories offers a crooked, playful take on the magical fatalism of the tales. The concise fragments feature, among multiple others, The Sleeping Beauty, told from the point of view of a revolutionist rose, as well as a parade of disjointed snippets of grandmas, windows, and unfortunate events – an intertextual ode to the nonconformist icon Daniil Harms. The book is a statement in absurd, feminist fantasy, succeeding such trailblazers as Angela Carter.

A similar feminist project of disturbing the discourse can be seen in Lehikoinen’s second work, poetry collection Turvalliset veistoset [Safe sculptures] (2009) as well as in the poems of Samaan aikaan toisaalla[Meanwhile Elsewhere] (2013). Turvalliset veistoset discusses the static cultural imagery of gender and sexuality by focusing on the visual and conceptual language surrounding them. Samaan aikaan toisaalla deals with the idea of collective consciousness, combining the time of female hysteria as a commonplace medical diagnosis and the contemporary media imagery crusted with pop culture icons. Both collections accentuate Lehikoinen’s style of cross-polluting history, magical thinking, and fast-paced media environment.

As a counterweight to her expressionist, maximalist jest of a literary bumber car, Lehikoinen has minimalist works of aphorisms. Her first collection, Sitruunalumilyhtyjä [Lemon snow lanterns] (2008) which won the Aphorism Book of the Year Award, attempts to catch glimpses of desire, body and its limits, memory, and unspoken rules of being. These themes it translates into small fragments of language that often are like gasps or stutters. 

Another aphorism collection, Isoympyräkatu [Bigcircle street] (2011) plucks the profound concepts of being, like happiness, time or becoming, and connects them into layers of geography. In this sense Isoympyräkatu foreshadows the collections Multa and Terra Nova, since all three deal with humanity as inseparable of its geographical surroundings.

Lehikoinen’s debut collection of short stories, Yksityisiä tragedioita [Private tragedies] (2017) includes more structurally dramatic stories than the later, absurdist Kukkien kapina. In Yksityisiä tragedioita Lehikoinen often takes the point of view of a child. This gives way to a more animalistic, magical telling of traumatic events. Much like Lehikoinen’s poetry works, the short stories deal with subjective memory, vulnerable relationships, and the artificial line between human and animal, sane and insane.

Lehikoinen’s most recent work, Punelma (2022) is her first novel. The name can be seen as a play of associations. It combines the colour red [punainen] and the word dream [unelma], but also resembles the word “sinelmä” that is a slightly redundant expression for bruise and derives from the colour blue [sininen]. On top of this, the name refers to “punos”, a twine. That can be seen to describe the form of the story, where different components are both thematically and structurally twisted together.

All these associations connect to the topic of the story. The novel ties together the lives of a documentarist born in the 80’s and a working-class woman featured in the novel Jaana Rönty (1907) of the Finnish national poet, Eino Leino. Following the distinct style of Lehikoinen, the novel consists of multiple time dimensions and points of view as well as both fiction and historical facts. The themes of geographical discrimination and extractivism of natural resources are also present, since Leino’s protagonist Jaana Rönty comes from the proletarian countryside, where people too were considered as a material resource. Punelma was nominated for the Runeberg Prize in Finland.

The Finnish newspaper Keskisuomalainen described Punelma as follows:

Punelma is a multi-ingredient weave, in which there are streaming a dialogue with the protagonist Jaana Rönty of Eino Leino’s novel, essayistic expression, autofiction, feminist research in literature and the political and social situation in Finland at the turn of the 20th century.”

What unites all Lehikoinen’s work, is the constant multi-dimensionality. Both poems and prose open in multiple directions and are meant to be looked at like an optic toy. Lehikoinen’s work excels in movement but questions the most rigid understanding of dramatic thermodynamics. Tensions and meaning can be found in relations that – at first glance – seem obsolete, frivolous, or insignificant, but are quite the opposite.

 

Essay written by Maija Alander