Lines from Karelia
by Nancy Mattson
Published November 2011
£4.00 post free in UK.
Thousands of North American Finns, gripped by “Karelian Fever”, moved to the Soviet Union in the 1930s to help build a socialist utopia. Nancy Mattson’s search for meaning and motive in that doomed project began with a personal search for her great-aunt Lisi, lost in Karelia in 1939, and went on to generate poems based on history, family letters and an autumn train journey to Karelia to meet her Russian step-kin. This pamphlet contains a few of those poems along with all of Lisi’s surviving letters and some historical photographs.
Nancy Mattson was born in Canada in 1947 and moved to London, England, in 1990, where she co-organizes the popular reading series Poetry in the Crypt. She spent her childhood summers on her Finnish-Canadian grandparents’ homesteads in Saskatchewan. After editing and co-authoring a history book, Life in the New Finland Woods (1982), she was inspired to write the poems in her first collection, Maria Breaks Her Silence (1989), based on the life of a 19th century Finnish woman who emigrated to Canada via Michigan. Her second collection is Writing with Mercury (2006). Her new collection, Finns and Amazons, will be published by Arrowhead Press in 2012. It begins with poems about some Russian women avant-garde artists and their milieu and leads into a poetic search for Lisi Hirvonen, her Finnish great-aunt who disappeared in Soviet Karelia sometime after 1939. In 2010 Nancy travelled to St Petersburg and Petrozavodsk, capital of Karelia, thus partially retracing Lisi’s steps.
Lisi Hirvonen was born in Finland in 1899 and moved to Canada in 1907 with her mother and one brother to join her father on his prairie homestead. All but two of her eight siblings also emigrated to North America. Lisi and her second husband, Eino Hirvonen, were among the several thousand North American Finns who migrated to Soviet Karelia in the 1930s. Of the letters Lisi wrote from there to her sister Anna Mattson, in Canada, fourteen survive. Her last letter is dated July 1939, but no one knows where, when or how Lisi died. Her letters were uncovered in a family basement in 2009 and translated from Finnish into English by Iiris Pursiainen (BA Honours, DipTrans, MCIL), who lives near Bristol, England.
Copyright © 2012 Arrowhead Press
Last modified: 12 February 2012