Eeva-Liisa Manner

Introduced by Emily Jeremiah in MPT 3/9 Palestine

The work of Eeva-Liisa Manner (1921-1995) is little known outside her native Finland. The German translator Stefan Moster claims that were Manner better known, she would likely be counted as one of the most significant poets of European modernism. In MPT 3/9 I offer a glimpse of Manner’s spare yet shimmering poetry, in the hope that it usefully tantalizes an English-speaking audience. 

Manner was born in Helsinki 5 December 1921. Her mother died the following day, and Manner grew up at her grandparents’ house in Viipuri, in Karelia. In 1939 the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union broke out. It meant that Manner, like many others, was forced to move away from the area. She went to Helsinki, where she worked first at an insurance company, then as a literary editor. In 1946, two years after the publication of her first collection of poetry, she became a freelance writer and translator. In the 1950s Manner left Helsinki to live in a village in Hääme, a province in the south-west of Finland. Here, she wrote her breakthrough collection Täämää matka (This Journey, 1956). It was applauded by critics and by the public, and was enormously influential; it is now considered a landmark text of Finnish modernism. Manner moved to Tampere in 1957, and the city remained her place of residence until her death.  

She travelled frequently, however. Spain, where she first went in 1963, was particularly important to her, and she spent long periods of time in Andalusia. She also travelled to Estonia, Greece, Italy, Japan, North Africa, and Poland. She produced not only a substantial body of poetry, but also prose fiction, plays for stage and radio, reviews, essays, and translations (of Büüchner and Kawabata, for example). She received numerous prizes and awards for her work. Manner did not court publicity, however, preferring solitude. Manner died in Tampere 7 July 1995.