The Helsinki Poetry Connection is a collective of writers and cultural activists that promotes live poetry, spoken word, and open mic culture in Finland and abroad. The HPC was born out of a growing need for people everywhere to express and perform their own written work. In 2008, then-student of cultural management Harri Hertell began organizing small-scale readings in Helsinki that were open to everyone. Hertell went on to spearhead the HPC for years afterward, but in the early days he incited interest and booked performers from among his friends and acquaintances, and by posting on internet forums to stir up Finnish spoken word.
Hertell wanted to involve music and rap with his poetry gatherings from the very beginning. The open mic portion was the epicenter of these revolutionary events from the first as well, forming into a new type of equitable public forum in urban spaces that were uncommon in Finland at the time. The Poetry Jam club, founded and organized together with literature association Nuoren Voiman Liitto, demonstrated to Helsinki audiences how diverse and powerful poetry evenings could be, complete with DJs, MCs, and live bands alongside poets and writers.
By 2010 the open mic aspect had become so popular that a club dedicated foremost to giving audience members themselves a voice was founded in the Vastarannan Kiiski bar in the Helsinki district of Töölö. The HPC was the first collective in the country to offer this dynamic brand of open mic on a regular basis, bringing performance poetry and spoken word into the sphere of Finnish performance and literature culture.
The ragtag group of poets who clustered around Hertell’s original vision formed a registered association in 2013 to develop the scope of their events and performances. Hertell was the first chair of HPC, followed by radical stage poets Aura Nurmi and Outi-Illuusia Parviainen. The chair for 2019-2020 is two-time Finnish slam master and veteran poet Juho Kuusi.
At the core of the Helsinki Poetry Connection’s ethos is a passion for verbal art and belief in the power of thoughts shared live with others. The open and encouraging nature of the HPC’s events is a the collective’s hallmark, striving to create safe and radical spaces for expression. The association’s board positions are open to all members in the HPC roster, and the open mic brings people together in truth and art.
Many writers who have been active in the collective’s activities have developed into pioneers and masters of their craft, and many hold fast to the methods of spoken word in their work and life.
Stepping stones for artists
As well as providing writers and poets with channels of expression, the HPC’s productions have also lifted numerous musicians, djs, graphic designers, and photographers into an epicenter of Finnish cultural life. Artists such as singer-songwriter Mirel Wagner performed at an intimate open mic gathering in 2010, before her rise to fame. Our producers dedicate careful attention to every aspect of the HPC’s flagship club, the Poetry Jam, for instance; from the djs spinning music during breaks to the photographers recording the lively events of the evening. Professional cooperation with the Helsinki Poetry Connection has helped people in many industries to develop their careers, just as our open mic nights have provided stepping stones for budding talents in creative literature.
The Helsinki Poetry Connection will have organized more than 400 events across Finland by 2020, reaching thousands of people at home and abroad.
Special milestones [awards separately]
Young poet and cultural management student Harri Hertell organizes his first live poetry event at the Vastarannan Kiiski pub in Helsinki.
The Poetry Jam spoken word club is founded together by Hertell and cultural organization Nuoren Voiman Liitto. The club sparks intense and immediate interest.
The Kiiski Open Mic club starts its seven-year run in Vastarannan Kiiski.
An album of a cappella and accompanied Finnish spoken word, called “Poetry Jam”, is released.
Finland’s only annual outdoor open mic club, HPC Goes Puisto, is founded by spoken word poets Kasper Salonen and Elina Salo.
HPC’s first live poetry visits to assisted care facilities in Helsinki, organized by poet Tuukka Terho. One resident still holds the record for oldest open micer, at 102 years old.
The Helsinki Poetry Connection is registered as a non-profit organization.
The first of the HPC’s anthologies, Lava-antologia — the first in-depth book on contemporary Finnish spoken word culture — is published by the Poesia cooperative. The anthology was edited by founding association members Juho Nieminen, Aura Nurmi, and Kasper Salonen.
The HPC organizes the international Helsinki Word Festival for the first time at Café Mascot, featuring three full days of performances and content. The festival would rebrand itself for one more round two years later.
An estimated 700 people visit Café Mascot to hear the HPC’s special solo guest, American spoken word poet Sarah Kay.
The HPC’s supporters help keep the Poetry Jam club running through a crowdfunding project during a funding dip.
The first Queer Poetry Jam is organized. The popularity and ethos of the evening inspires the HPC to produce one LGBTQI-themed Poetry Jam every year.
Publisher Savukeidas releases Harri Hertell’s Lavaruno-opas, a detailed record of Finnish spoken word culture and history that also serves as a handbook for open mic or poetry event producers.
The Helsinki Poetry Connection turns 10! Two groups of HPC veteran poets travel around Finland performing their work during the On the Road domestic tour.