Niillas Holmberg: Underfoot

The acclaimed Sami poet’s new collection about a connection to the earth and the search for the present day.

Author: Niillas Holmberg
Finnish original: Jalkapohja
Publisher: Gummerus, 2019
Genre: literary fiction
Number of pages: 147 pp.
Reading material: Finnish original, Sami original, English Sample
, Norwegian translation, Estonian translation
Rights sold: Estonia, DAT

Underfoot, a collection of poems, emphasises the connection between people and the earth. It praises nature folklore whilst questioning whether it fits in with our contemporary mind and way of life.

In Holmberg’s poems people wake up with the hum of shoe laces or pull out a quill from the air. The objects provide a grounding connection as well as a responsibility to protect the environment from various hazards.

Underfoot invites us to return to the soles of our feet, our link to the ground. The antagonist of the foot is the cobbler, at loggerheads with terns who are behaving like environmental activists. Language flows next to the birds and birches, across the arctic landscape. Instead of bouts of nostalgia, Holmberg’s poems are looking for the lost present moment, unfurling contemporary Sami sensibilities.

Niillas Holmberg is a Sami poet who has been shortlisted for the Nordic Council Literature Prize. The illustrations are from an emerging Sami artist Inga-Wiktoria Påve.

Juolgevuođđu [Underfoot] is like a political and cunning joik. This is a volume of poetry in which both the illustrations and the well-chosen words build an aesthetic that allows for a broader mindset towards nature conservation, in terms of both willingness and knowledge. The underworld mirrors our deeds and makes us aware of them, forcing us humans to understand what our punishment must be. The book challenges the reader to reflect. […] The book itself gives expression to a longing for self-determination, endeavour, and execution.
– Nordic Council Literature Prize jury

“Holmberg’s land and nature are compared, or actually melted to the language itself. The lead character is the verb, not the landscape that is being observed.”
– Helsingin Sanomat newspaper on Underfoot

About the author:
Niillas Holmberg