Review: THE WARMTH OF THE TAXIDERMIED ANIMAL by Tytti Heikkinen
The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal
Tytti Heikkinen (translated by Niina Pollari)
Review by JENIFER PARK
Translated from Finnish by Niina Pollari, The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal, is a compilation of poems from Tytti Heikkinen’s first two books—Taxidermied Animal’s Wealth (2008) and Shadows from Astronauts (2010).
The poems of The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal are both proverbs on the indecencies of life and stories of emotional indigestion. In “Awaiting the flood,” the speaker ruminates then reduces his/her life to a question: “Does a person even have life and if so, / then where between fetus / and a me-like political vacuum is the difference?” The final line of the poem—“I am just a small lake in which a certain man died.”—serves as an answer. An antacid that subdues this indigestion.
Each poem has the gross and exotic familiarity of an itchy sweater we’ve all once worn, or have imagined wearing in this or another lifetime. The title of the work aptly alludes to this strange comfort. The taxidermied animal, pried open, hollowed for preservation, and usually poised in a state of action or emotion, is gross yet warm.
In “About the relationship between reality and story, or, AT SOME BOUNCEHOUSE,” Heikkinen writes:
Reality still can’t even tolerate itself, and so the one experiencing it is left with nothing but an illusion of plots and big turns. Weird as it is, the overexposed environment of stories is oddly effective, because it emphasizes the way things occur toward a person.
Heikkinen recommends reality as an “illusion” of life. And yet, though life is a mirage, it still occurs. A taxidermied animal, dead and silent, still displays a tremor of life. Each poem is a rehearsal of a shedding self, an upheaval. Each poem wavers between the illusory and the actual.
Though these poems extend from digital processes (Pollari notes in her introduction that Heikkinen writes with search engines, a translation software, and blogs) they are analog in the sense that they are rooted in the elemental. Her poems climb towards what we are when we’re stripped bare. In “I look out the window,” Heikkinen writes
… I think
about pains that are without announcing themselves. …
… I can’t be without admiring
this apocalypse world. …
And from “The day in its entirety”:
You are here, and here continues in every direction.
Everyone will be charged the fee, so there’s no reason to not allow
yourself to visit the marvelous spa.
Each poem exudes a humanness that reminds us that humans are vessels for suffering and passion, that really none of this is futile, and that even though we are carriers of weird afflictions, we are uncontainable. These poems show the loneliest solitude is one that requires waiting. Heikkinen’s speakers wait for a welcoming from someone or something—a homecoming faint in its invitation, but felt still in its arrival. They wait only to slip outside of themselves to see what they slipped out of. They resurface to another coffin to masturbate to their reflections. Heikkinen’s acute empathy and uninhibited style of telling reminds readers that we’re all walking through the same dirty sludge. She tells us that waiting is a part of knowing.
Anomalous stones glitter the book. For instance, an asynchronous, interruptive word—“macaroni”—is wedged as an anchoring moment of humor in a darkly introspective prose piece. In “Surprising reunion,” Heikkinen writes about Frankenstein’s monster returning home from what seems like another mundane day to find posters torn and his bed slept in. The monster later discovers Frankenstein hiding in the basement. In “Ilja Ilits from Korpiselkä,” Ilja needs a job in the middle of political terror, though she’s on the fighting side. Through characters and situations like this, Heikkinen reminds readers of what makes laughing and crying simultaneously a particularly human experience. Korean superstition says that if one laughs while crying, she will grow hairs on her butt. I tell this to my crying friends and they begin to laugh. It never fails. Heikkinen knows that to be human is to be everything. Her quick sense of grounded play encourages us to see this.
Pollari’s translation offers the reader a glimpse into the visual angular beauty of Finnish words. The original Finnish versions precede each translation and one can’t help but keep the Finnish pages in his or her peripheral as the humid and incisive mouth of each translated poem opens. Pollari renders the flickering razors of Heikkinen’s dank and manic poetry for the English audience with an uncanny skill that, without the original text beside it, one would not believe it was a translation.
In “Spring to fall,” Heikkinen writes,
Maybe the ego lives between things. Maybe this is like the edge of truth.
It’s merciful if truth is the thing that goes against what we assume.
Pollari knows these experiences are translatable, transferrable, and, always, felt. Pollari knows that “our ultimate destination [is to] find answers and expose edges” even if the truth’s answer is indecent or indigestible. This is a truth that doesn’t need translation. This is how one prepares his or herself for taxidermy.