Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We love the cultural history and mythology that you include in this piece. What is the
background for the legend of the dead roaming the Earth for forty days?
Ron Riekki: I don’t know where I heard that exactly, but I’m familiar with Karelian stories, mythology, folk tales, “legend,” whatever the word would be, and the first time I heard that concept I was very intrigued
RR: There’s a strong sense of voice in the story, and we’re interested in the choice of the narrator as the friend, instead of Nils as the grieving son. What led you to develop the story from his perspective?
Riekki: Interesting. I think I wanted to have someone scooped up into something bigger than himself. Nils is so active and I wanted the narrator to be pulled along. I tend to be passive in some aspects and have hung around with rather larger-than-life people who have swooped me up into strange narratives and I was excited to do this with this narrator.
RR: We understand that “Pokoinikk” is the Bulgarian word for “Deceased.” Can you discuss the significance of the title? How do you see the connections between language and the themes in the story?
Riekki: I’ve heard that it’s Russian or Karelian or Bulgarian and have seen it translated in a lot of ways such as “the deceased” or “the dead one,” or “the dead,” but I’ve always taken it to be a Karelian word. I like using Karelian and Saami words for titles. At an Anishinaabe summer camp where I worked, Leora Lancaster of the NMU Center for Native American Studies really inspired me on the importance of the continuation of indigenous languages, so making sure I’m being multilingual in my writing is important. Being polyglottic is so important in a time of continuing extinctions.
RR: We’re interested in how you integrated research in your writing process and how you approached the meshing of cultural aspects in the story. Did you find yourself researching as you wrote or did you research first and then write “Pokoinikk”?
Riekki: Well, I’m of Karelian and Saami heritage, so it’s a bit of research and it’s a bit of just be-ing. I get intimidated that there are so few Saami and Karelians, so it’s important that I connect with those cultures and write about them. If anyone is of Karelian or Saami heritage, please follow me on twitter @RonRiekki; I love to connect with people, especially when you’re attached to such a tiny population of people.
RR: What inspired you to write this piece?
Riekki: I really like indigenous writing. And I really like stories that are concerned with the afterworld. And I really like stories where you have no idea where the story is headed, so I wanted to do that with the story. I hope I succeeded. I was reading a Sherman Alexie story recently and had this wonderful feeling of having no idea what direction he was going to take me. I had the same thing happen with a John Jodzio story recently too and it felt so fun to be led along without being able to see the horizon.
Ron Riekki’s work in Issue 5.3: