Stina Saari

- Finland -

Stina Saari (b. 1992) is a writer and performing artist originally from Seinäjoki, Finland and currently based in Helsinki, Finland. Saari has published one work, "Änimling" (2018), which was nominated for the Debuting Author Award in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper and won the Tanssiva Karhu Award in poetry (2019). Saari’s second work is titled "onninno” (2023). The poet has studied at the University of Helsinki, taking courses reflecting their interest, and spends time dancing and engaging in visual arts.


A singing creature on the verge of unspeakable – Stina Saari’s visceral poetry

 

Stina Saari is a poet, who’s language penetrates itself to its very core. Words, syllables, phones, and pauses open into voids of playful, yet dangerously vulnerable mere tissue of communication. Saari’s poetry is distinctively visual, visceral, and unruly. It combines colloquial, formal, and personal wordings into musical language patterns that are bound to explode.

The spatial and phonetic nature of Saari’s poetry that runs over pages and occasionally melts into nonsense has its history in the Futurist movement that used to shatter language into unexpected, often hyper-concise combinations. Its roots are also in the Surrealist and Dadaist movements with their mechanisation of language and their mission in reinventing the artistic expression itself. Take the French Oulipo group with their experimental, mathematic techniques or the Fluxus artists with their performance scores highlighting speech and mundane gestures as an artistic performance. Or think of the postmodern approach to language as an endless sediment structure of citation and disjointed irony. Saari’s poetry is all that, as well as it is an intuitive journey to child-like babble and language as pure emotion.

Saari’s first work, Änimling (2018), was noted as “the most exciting experimental poetry collection in Finnish for years” by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (25.10.2018). The review suggests that Saari’s use of language is an attempt to express something bodily incomprehensible. The inescapable theme, sexual violence, is seeping through and chewing holes to the conventional syntax of language.

“In sexual violence the relationship between humans is distorted. It’s not only something horrible that happens between two people, but it wounds the entire community. It is an experience that escapes rational language, and that’s why I’ve written this book”, Saari says in the interview by Finnish national broadcasting company, Yle (12.6.2019).

Today, Saari adds that it was simply a choice not to leave violence out of the book. The fractured, unleashed musicality of language doesn’t stem from the experience of violence but allows it to show and materialize.

Änimling won the Tanssiva Karhu Award in poetry by Yle in 2019. According to the jury Saari’s language “makes odd words seem familiar” and acts so that the reader will “bump into familiar words like “moi” [“hi”] like the first time”.

The means of Änimling are described similarly in the Helsingin Sanomat review by Vesa Rantama:

“The mismatch ingredients combine poetry that gives a monster its voice and tells a story about unfathomable suffering. The monster smacks bits of language in enthusiasm and leaves behind smoking ruins.”

In the interview by Yle, Saari explains, how the language of Änimling reflects the author’s overall perception of the world. In Saari’s eyes, the world consists almost entirely of sounds and rhythms. 

“For example, at the end of this collection there are these mmmmmm  -sounds, so that is how the sun sounds like to me.”

One of the book’s newly constituted words that escape an unambiguous meaning, is its name, Änimling. According to Saari in the Yle interview, Änimling constitutes of the Finnish word “minä” [in English “I”] backwards and combined with a singing “ling!” at the end. Therefore, the name is a topsy-turvy self, accompanied with a stubborn cheerfulness and musical ambiguity. 

What is characteristic to Saari’s poetry among the contemporary Finnish poetry atmosphere, is its delicate balance between naïve and ironic, overflowing and scarce. As multiple reviews put it, the language invites its reader to play, to enjoy, and to recklessly devour the syllables even if the underlying connotations might urge one to purge. 

As language fails to express, it can start to deteriorate. The decaying of words is also a process of close-to-meaningless, yet appealing formation of a Language Frankenstein. Saari explains, how the name “Änimling” also associates to the Swedish word “äntligen” [finally] and the English word “animal”. Therefore, Änimling is a study in humanity. In Saari’s words, the collection sees human as a singing creature, whose speech resembles dance, when it bodily interacts with other beings.

“In its way, Änimling suggests a poetic theory of a human”, Saari says. “Although, this too is a simplification. In some poems it’s the language or song that moves the person, not the other way round.”

The language of Änimling can also be seen as a manifestation of queer. The disruption of categories and the constant hide and seek of marginalized bodies constantly creates new language as a means of escape and celebration.

The process of language fracturing is also a known consequence of traumatizing events. In that sense Saari’s poetry connects to the literary tradition dealing with trauma from within. 

In Finland the contemporary literature addressing trauma in its language and form even further than in its literal contents has come to the fore after the (usually male) confessional prose. In this sense, Saari’s experimental poetry can be linked to other contemporary Finnish authors such as Susanna Hast, who’s awarded debut novel Ruumis/huoneet [Body/rooms] (2022) deals with trauma in the body, space, and time. Another similar connection can be drawn to the author and playwright E.L. Karhu and especially their recent play Eriopis (2022).

For Saari, trauma is not the main reason for poetry to disintegrate and reach out to the new and unexplored. As multiple reviews of Änimling put it, the very core of the book feels playful and revolutionarily joyous. As language reterritorializes, it can create space and a sense of immediacy that opens gateways between the realms of power and emotion.

 

Essay written by Maija Alander