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Arvo (Albin) Turtiainen (1904-1980)


Finnish working class poet, translator, prominent member of the literary group 'Kiila' (Wedge) with Elvi Sinervo and Viljo Kajava. Turtiainen drew his subjects from the life of workers and his native city, Helsinki. Central themes are the struggle of the proletariat, building of the better future, and the threats of war and Fascism. Turtiainen's poems show his familiarity with such American writers as Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters.

"How many years – more than fifty, now
since I first walked these streets...
was Mother holding my hand then
as mothers hold their children's hands today
on these same streets?"

(from 'A Farewell to the Rööperi of My Childhood')

Arvo Turtiainen was born in Helsinki, the son Ernst Turtiainen, a master tailor, and Ida Lovisa Väätäinen. Turtiainen's father was a Socialist, and had a successful career, but alcoholism led him to commit suicide in the early 1920s. During the Finnish Civil War (1917-18), at the age of 13, Turtiainen witnessed the tragic fate of the Reds at Suomenlinna's, the sea-fortress in front of Helsinki, which served for a period as a notorious prison camp.

After finishing school, Turtiainen graduated in 1925 as dental technician. He worked then in the profession in Vyborg (1927-30) and in Turku and Helsinki (1930-32, 34-36). Until the Depression years and rise of the right-wing Lapua movement, which campaigned to root out all vestiges of Marxism, Turtiainen was not much interested in workers movement. Between the years 1931 and 1932, he studied at the Social Institute journalism and social sciences, and began to contribute in Jyväskylä to the leftist magazine Työn Voima (1932-34). From this period, from 1932 onwards, Turtiainen's faithful companion was his portable Remington typewriter, which he used over 40 years.

In 1934 Turtiainen settled in Helsinki, and published poems in the magazine Tulenkantajat (The Fire Bearers). Soon he became one of the central members of the literary group Kiila, serving as its chair until 1951. Kiila's members favored radical free verse and were more or less Marxists. From 1936 to 1938, Turtiainen was a subeditor of Kirjallisuuslehti. From 1945 to 1947 he edited the magazine 40-luku.

Turtiainen published in 1936 his first collection of poems, Muutos, in which he praised the workers at factories and buildings, and cursed the evils of the unemployment. It was followed by the novel Rautakourat (1939), a strike story, for which Turtiainen worked for some time at a dockyard. In Tie pilven alta (1939), and a collection of verse, Turtiainen used the technique of epitaph similar to that of Spoon River Anthology. All major publishing houses had rejected the work. Eventually it was accepted by Kirjailijain kustannusliike. Some of the poems were based on true life accounts. 'Tehtailija Salovaara' told of a manufacturer, who accidentally shot his gardener, believing him to be a crow. A member of parliament for Isänmaallinen kansaliike, IKL (Patriotic People's Party), a nationalist and anti-communist party, threatened Turtiainen with an action of libel.

During the Winter War (1939-40), Turtiainen served for a short time in the army as an officer in Virojoki. On leave, Turtiainen broke his leg, and was hospitalized for six months due to embolus. At the battle of Summa, where Turtiainen's company was sent when he was convalescenting, about 60 % of its men died or were wounded. After the Continuation War (1941-44), broke out, Turtiainen went into a hiding place in Tammelund, refusing to participate alongside Nazi Germany in the war against the Soviet Union.

In winter 1942 Turtiainen's his hiding place was revealed to the authorities and was arrested and imprisoned for two years. While in prison, he managed to write a collection of poems, Palasin kotiin (1944), which drew it subject from the war. In 1945 appeared prison poems Laulu kiven ja raudan ympyrässä. Turtiainen's diary from the period, Ihminen n:o 503/42, which came out in 1946, describes the penalty system lively and satirically. At Riihimäki Turtiainen was denied the right to have books and pen and paper. The situation changed after he was sent to Sukeva, where he met a doctor with whom he talked about poetry. "Myrkky-Iivari" (Poison-Ivar), as the doctor is called in the diary, considered Turtiainen an idealist. In the beginning of 1944, during the bombings of Helsinki by the Soviet airforces, Turtiainen's home was destroyed , but after the Red Army launched a massive attack at the Isthmus of Karelia, Turtiainen wrote optimistically in his diary: "The day of freedom is coming!"

Turtiainen's translation of Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology came out in 1947. In 1948 he travelled to Italy with the writer Henrik Tikkanen – Turtiainen had money only for one-way ticket to Trieste. After drinking two weeks with Tikkanen, he went to Hungary, where he joined a Finnish cultural delegation and returned via Moscow to Helsinki. His first marriage ended in 1951 – Turtiainen had married at the beginning of the Winter War Helena Vormula whom he had known for years. Another blow was that his new collection of poems, Runon kalvas kalkki, was rejected by the publishing company Otava. Eino S. Repo, who sent the poems back, had served in the army as an officer during the war. Later in the 1960s he was appointed director of the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Repo considered it questionable whether all texts in Turtiainen's collection could be classified as poem. This period of crisis, which included a passionate affair with the woman who would become his second wife, ended in the 1950s.

Turtiainen married in 1953 the critic and translator Brita Polttila (1920-2008); she made her debut as a poet at the age of 43 with the collection Katson tästä (1963). In 1954 Turtiainen received his first state literature award for Laulu ajasta ja rakkaudesta. A new rise to popularity happened, when Turtiainen began to take his subjects from his own life and utilize in his lyrics elements of city slang, culminating in Minä paljasjalkainen (1962).

In the 1950s and 1960s Turtiainen was both know for his leftist political stand and his poems depicting with humour and satire the streets, places, and people of Helsinki. He used the ' Stadi' slang, the everyday language of the turn-of-the-century Helsinki, which borrowed words among others from Russia and Swedish. From these poems Turtiainen gained the name 'Stadin Arska' (Big City Archie). Several of his odes were inspired by his own neighborhood, Punavuori ('Redhill'), called by its slang name of Rööperi.. "You've disappeared, old Rööperi, disappeared / to live in the visions of my memory, in the summer of my childhood / You disappeared like the old maples and lime trees from your yards / you became a shambles, got moss-grown, stopped flowering. . . ." (translated by Herbert Lomas, from Helsinki: A Literary Companion, 2000)

Turtiainen's vernacular coarseness, and critical attitude toward society, was largely accepted as a part of his folksy, talkative character. Turtiainen also wrote radio plays, essays, and translated such writer as Vladimir Mayakovsky, Graham Greene, Edgar Lee Masters, Walt Whitman, and Pasternak's poems from Doctor Zhivago with Helvi Juvonen. In 1973 Turtiainen was made honorary doctor at the University of Helsinki.

Remaining faithful to the ideals of commitment, Turtiainen had his own special role in the decades, when modernism began to dominate the literary scene, but he also showed understanding to the work of Pentti Saarikoski, the most visible poet of the younger, modernist generation. With Saarikoski, whom he once called a "naughty, kicking, recalcitrant, grinning black sheep," he disputed at the House of Culture in Helsinki in 1965. Saarikoski read poems from his latest collection Mitä tapahtuu todella?. Turtiainen made cracks about it and sang a folksy poem, with his beard trembling. The literary show ended in a draw.

Unlike Elvi Sinervo, who expressed her sorrow after Stalin's death and had a personal crisis after Khrushchev condemned the '"cult of personality," Turtiainen fought against Stalinism. Especially in cultural policy it was seen in the ideological line of Armas Äikiä (1904-64), a hard-line Communist, who returned in 1947 from the Soviet Union to Finland. For some time Turtiainen's position as the major poet of the Communist Party was threatened by Äikiä, whose works never gained a critical acclaim. When the Nobel Laureate Boris Pasternak was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers in 1958, Turtiainen sent with the writer Elvi Sinervo a protest letter to the Union. In 1964 Turtiainen visited China, where he was disappointed at the level of literature. He also noted that Chinese writers can quote classic drinking songs, but they don't drink. However, like Pentti Haanpää, who had travelled in China in 1953, Turtiainen did not condemn there restrictions on free speech.

After the Soviet intervention in the Hungarian revolution of 1956, Turtiainen gradually left the Communist Party, eventually resigning in 1965. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (August 20-21, 1968) divided the Left parties. Officially the invasion was condemned by the Communist Party, although its minority wing strongly opposed the decision. Turtiainen's disappointment in the crushing of the "Prague Spring" came out in Puhetta Porthaninrinteellä  (1968). Turtiainen compared the Soviet Union to an elephant in 'Pettyneelle rakastetulle' but also praised the courage and faith of Communists in 'Kommunisteille', dated 21 August, 1968. However, most of the poems in the collection dealt with aging, love, Helsinki, and the work of a poet. 'Rukous Hannu Salaman puolesta' defended the novelist Hannu Salama, who had been found guilty of "deliberate blasphemy" in 1966. Later the judgement was overturned.

For further reading: A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by Arthur C. Schoolfield (1998); A Way to Measure Time, ed. by Bo Carpelan, et al. (1992); Kapinalliset kynät II-III by Raoul Palmgren (1984); 'Arvo Turtiaisen tie 30-luvun pilvien alta' by Vesa Karonen, in Rivien takaa, ed. by Ritva Haavikko (1976); Arvo Turtiainen - elämää ja ystäviä, ed. by Erkki Savolainen (1980); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); 'Proletaari kotikaupungissa' in Kansakunnan kaapin päällä by Matti Kurjensaari (1969) 

Selected works:

  • Muutos: runoja, 1936
  • Rautakourat: kertomus eräästä lakosta, 1938 (illustrated by Tapio Tapiovaara)
  • Kirjailijaryhmä Kiilan albumi. (1-2), 1937-38 (editor, with Viljo Kajava and Kaisu-Mirjami Rydberg)
  • Tie pilvien alta: runoja, 1939
  • Kirjailijaryhmä Kiilan albumi 3, 1940 (editor, with Pentti Lahti)
  • Palasin kotiin: runoja, 1944
  • Laulu kiven ja raudan ympyrässä: runoja, 1945
  • Ihminen n:o 503/42: erään kokeen päiväkirja, 1946
  • Laulu puolueelle: puhekuoro- y.m. runoja, 1946
  • Kiilan albumi 1946, 1946 (editor, with Kaisu-Mirjami Rydberg):
  • Spoon River antologia / Edgar Lee Masters, 1947 (translator) 
  • Nuori Kiila: runoantologia, 1948 (editor, with Elvi Sinervo and Viktor Tiainen)
  • Kellopoijut: runoja, 1950 (with Elvi Sinervo)
  • Hopeanuoli / Thomas Warbuton, 1951 (radio play; translator)
  • Kadotettu kirje / Luca Caragiale, 1952 (radio play; translator, with Brita Polttila)
  • Hei siellä / William Saroyan, 1952-53 (play; translator)
  • Tapahtui satamassa, 1954 (radio play)
  • Laulu ajasta ja rakkaudesta: valitut runot, 1954
  • Kaupungin tuho / Archibald McLeish, 1955 (radio play; translator)
  • Minä rakastan: runoja, 1955
  • Kiilan albumi 7, 1956 (editor, with Raoul Palmgren and Tapio Tapiovaara)
  • Punaisia ruusuja minulle / Sean O'Casey, 1957 (radio play, translator)
  • Lomaleikki / Mihail Sebastian, 1958 (radio play; translator)
  • Syyskevät: runoja, 1959
  • Miehemme Havannassa / Graham Greene, 1959 (translator) 
  • Pilvi housuissa ja muita runoja / Vladimir Majakovski, 1959 (translator)
  • Minä paljasjalkainen: runoja, 1962
  • Runoja: 1943-64, 1964
  • Ruohoa / Walt Whitman, 1965 (translator) 
  • James Deanin kuolema / Alfred Andersch, 1967 (radio play; translator)
  • Hyvää joulua: Runoja, 1967
  • Puhetta Porthaninrinteellä: Runoja, 1968
  • Hyvää joulua koko Suomen kansa!, 1969 (radio play)
  • 20 nykyvirolaista runoilijaa, 1969 (editor, with Raili Kilpi-Hynynen)
  • Meri, miehet, laivat, 1969 (editor, with Oiva Lappalainen)
  • Vladimir Iljits Lenin / Vladimir Majakovski, 1970 (translator) 
  • Runoni / Elmer Diktonius, 1972 (translator) 
  • Laulu ajasta ja rakkaudesta, 1973-74 (play)
  • Leivän kotimaa: runoja, 1974
    - Leiva kodumaa: luulevalimik, 1979 (koostanud Paul Rummo; tõlkinud Jaan Kross, et al.) 
  • Runoja 1934-68, 1974
  • Kertomus Leninistä, 1977-78 (drama, with Ari Tuukkanen, based on V. Mayakovski's poem)
  • Minun maailmani: kirjoituksia 1932-1975, 1978 (edited by Vesa Karonen)
  • Dikter: om tiden, livet, kärleken, Hesa och dess människor och några till, 1978 (i urval och tolkning av N-B. Stormbom)
  • Elämää ja ystäviä, 1980 (with Kauko Forsell, Erkki Savolainen)
  • Izbrannoe, 1986 (per. s finskogo: Robert Vinonen)

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