(Not Quite) 10 Questions for Susanna Brougham
- By Christin Howard
The lake moves, blue to blue. Runnels, droplets,
oar-lifted slap dull chimes against gunwales.
The blue dress and white kerchief are a young woman
crossing what she can’t escape. She forces
a calm, makes
a quiet pool of herself. —from "A Finnish Lake," Summer 2019 (Vol. 60, Issue 2)
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Finland, for sure. It is a real place, of course, yet also an imagined place, for me. All my grandparents were born there, and it has fascinated me from an early age. For pleasure and inspiration, I have delved into its history, literature, music, folk traditions, landscapes, and even the remarkably difficult language. It’s an endless resource. According to the DNA tests, I clock in at 97 percent Finnish. Yet in a sense, Finland is a foreign country to me. I’m a Finnish American and a New Englander by culture. I grew up in a “Finn town” in Maine, and those who passed on to me aspects of Finnish tradition and national character had lived in Finland when it was under Russian rule. Finland has, naturally, changed quite a bit since then. I feel close to an earlier period there. And my upbringing in rural America continues to have a deep impact on me. So, the “imagined place” I often write from might be called Finnish New England, or New England in Love with Finland, or Finland vs. Maine. My connection to the homeland of my grandparents includes blessings, conflicts, and questions.
What inspired you to write this piece?
In 2017 I visited Finland for the third time. It was a special year—the centennial of Finnish independence. I’d been there long ago as an exchange student and later to do family research. But in 2017, I had a simple goal—let Finland speak to me. It was welcome to say whatever it wanted. One thing it said: lakes. Finland is known as the land of a thousand lakes. It’s common for Finns to spend time each summer by a lake, and for Finnish artists to gaze at the blue and return something of that experience to viewers. I was mesmerized by many such waterscapes such as the ones represented in these paintings. My poem “A Finnish Lake” is especially a response to this painting, by Albert Edelfelt, which is quite famous in Finland. I made a few notes as I gazed at it. The poem came later. Some details are true to the painting, and others to my experience of it.
What are you working on currently?
The manuscript for my first book of poetry is now out and about with various publishers and contests. I’m staying hopeful! I’m partway through writing a short story based in Maine, and a new sequence of poems as well.
What are you reading right now?
Current poetry favorites: Falling Awake by Alice Oswald and Ornitheology by Kevin McLellan; also looking forward to the new collection by Edward Hirsch. Current fiction favorites: The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay and White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen; also looking forward to Deep River by Karl Marlantes.
Susanna Brougham’s poetry has been published in Gettysburg Review, Denver Quarterly, Cincinnati Review, Tampa Review, and other journals, and has appeared on Poetry Daily. She has received grant support from the St. Botolph Club Foundation and Finlandia Foundation. Susanna works as an editor for book publishers and museums.