Poetry Shelf Lounge: Robyn Maree Pickens’ Finland Residency – a poem, an interview, photographs

Flaunted temporality

It is a rare winter      the blood of the earth runs unfrozen

The coldest thing is this peach & passionfruit juice in a glass bottle

I open it & take a sounding dive into you  through

pinked granite, epipelagic ocean rifts & twenty-eight lost seasons

I’m back on that dusty strip between the disused train station

& the eroding coastline where we practiced chi gong

& the ocean gulped & purged our broken teeth & awkward outs

One summer’s day we cupped a warm peach in our hands &

meditated on the distillation of sun as dust peeled the pyramids

In divinity pleats the sun magnetised the seed’s first stretch

into light & between the movement of thought & the movement

of growth there was no paralysis until we held all the sun

that had ever shone & uncupped into an orchard in a disorder

of tongues & disrobing & grasping & pressing & scent & stick

the consistency of sun-hot bruised fruit    pinnately veined 

Robyn Maree Pickens    

my accommodation on the day I left (28 February)

The interview

What three words come to mind when you think of your Finland experiences:

nourishment / squirrels / ice

Did you know anything about Finland before you went?

Initially nothing more than generalised projections of Nordic countries: wintry yet cosy inside, great jerseys, fish, forests of evergreens, sleek design, sauna…

Can you introduce us to the residency please?

You get off a local bus on the side of the highway in the midst of bare, flat farmland in southwest Finland, and are greeted by Iiris who takes you a short distance in a minivan to Saari Residence, which used to be a manor. It now supports two-month individual artist residencies for eight practitioners at a time, while collective residencies are held over the summer months. The invited artist is there for eight months. During the time I was at Saari, the practitioners included dancers/choreographers, filmmakers, a composer, an artist, and a PhD student.

Were you located in one place or did you travel around?

Just in one place.

What struck you most when you arrived and settled into the residency?

So many things! The level of care we were given, the seriousness with which we, and our projects, were treated, the incredible warmth inside, amazing welcome dinner and weekly lunches made by a local chef, and the smoothness of understated wealth.

Did you travel with predetermined writing plans?

Yes, I submitted a proposal centred on an eco-phenomenological response to place and climate as a source for a collection of poems nine or ten months before the actual residency. I selected the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months of January and February as my first option because I was aware that snowfall has been reducing over the past decades, and it was starting to feel like an increasingly rare experience. But to fly to the other side of the world… It was becoming harder and harder to justify flying, and it seems even more absurd now with Covid. Yet the pull of difference is still strong.

Did the place change what you had planned?

It did, but in the almost year long interval between proposal and residency, I had become seduced by Hannah Arendt’s concept of amor mundi (love of the world) and her definition of the Latin phrase Amo: Volo ut sis which is translated either as ‘I love you: I will you to be,’ or ‘I love you: I want you to be.’ Arendt writes, ‘[i]t is the affirmation of the other who is loved for his [sic] own sake and not as an object of desire… not “I want to have you” or “I want to rule you,”[1] and I wondered if this could shape an ecopoetic and ethical relationship with the rest of nature. So I read quite a bit of Arendt.

Ironically, it was also one of the warmest winters, which in the warmer southern region of Finland still means approximately (or at least) thirty centimetres of snow over those first two months of the year. While there was some snow and plenty of frosts and ice, it didn’t last that long. So if I had been fixed on my original proposal, I would’ve had to have dealt with absence, or partial absence, which could’ve been interesting as well.

Where was your favourite place to write?

There was a desk and table in the living room of my apartment (which was originally the farmhands’ building), but I always worked at the table because it looked out onto a stand of trees, and there were squirrels leaping from branches and racing up tree trunks.

What did you love most about the experience?

The quality of T I M E and the feeling of being cared for. The people I met. And being continuously warm inside when it was cold out.

Did you have any epiphanies? Life or writing?

I experienced a deep, platonic connection with the invited artist Essi Kausalainen that was more than shared interests, values, aesthetic sensibilities, and ethics. We continued the conversations we had at Saari via email, some of which you can read here

Was there something you missed about Aotearoa when you were there?

The diversity of plants and the sound of native birds. And kombucha.

What books did you take?

CA Conrad’s three most recent collections (A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon 2012, Eco Deviance: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness 2014, While Standing in Line for Death 2017), Mal: a journal of sexuality and erotics: Plant Sex, Anne Carson Decreation, Sappho Come Close, Ocean Vuong Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Kaveh Akbar Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Max Ritvo Four Reincarnations, Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion.

I am incredibly grateful to the Kone Foundation who fund Saari, the staff at Saari, the other residents (their personalities and creativity), and all the other sentient beings: birch and pine trees (and their mycorrhizal synergies), pack ice, migratory birds, and squirrels. Thank you!


[1] Tatjana Noemi Tömmel, ‘Vita Passiva: Love in Arendt’s Denktagebuch’, in Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Hannah Arendt’s Denktagebuch, ed. by Roger Berkowitz and Ian Storey (New York: Fordham University, 2017), pp. 116, 117.

Robyn Maree Pickens is an art writer, poet, and a critical/creative PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics at the University of Otago. Her poetry is forthcoming in Southword, and has appeared in Empty Mirror, Into the Void, this gender is a million things that we are more than, Peach Mag, SAND Berlin, amberflora, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Matador Review, Jacket 2 (US), at ARTSPACE, Auckland, in the Brotherton Poetry Prize Anthology published by Carcanet Press and in Fractured Ecologies. Website Twitter: @RobynPickens

my accommodation (four individual apartments in what was originally the farmhands’ building)

my accommodation

the barn, communal area, and studios

pack ice at the nearby inlet

pack ice at the nearby inlet

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