Names or cultural references suffice to convey meaning to the reader: classics, movie stars, brand names, myths and Joe Bloggs coexist in them. In this sense, Jarkko Laine’s poems are ‘cultural’ and testify to a belief in a shared cultural reality and in the existence of a shared civilisation. Furthermore, they assert, in an Eliotian spirit, that the canon of ‘great books’ and great works is still alive. In the manner of a learned humanist, Laine is not afraid to appear pedantic but is willing to emphasise his points with italics or footnotes whenever necessary.
Since publishing his first collection of poems, Muovinen buddha (‘The plastic Buddha’, 1967) at the age of twenty, Laine has produced a great deal of poetry and prose, short stories in particular. His youthful first book was a hit because it imported elements of popular culture and American Beat writings into Finnish poetry. Those were new at the time, since the dominant style of the Sixties was still one of polished and consciously aesthetic modernism.
After his early countercultural ‘underground’ phase, Laine expanded the thematics of his poetry and evolved a virtuosic command of linguistic inventiveness. In his new collection, Jumala metsästää öisin eli Jobin kirjaan meidän on aina palaaminen (‘God hunts at night, or, we must always return to the Book of Job’, Otava, 2005), the first person or speaker of the poems is a literary figure to whom reality often reveals itself through the medium of literature. These poems rest on an optimistic view of the possibility of connection between human beings across time and space. Culture and art offer a means of both communication and comprehension of reality.
The final line in the poem ‘Greek delights’ – ‘I am a long way from home, a reflection of my world’ – conveys a multiplicity of reference in a small space. In a foreign country, the stranger is indeed a reflection of his own world, but he also reflects everything he experiences; ultimately, the subject’s own world may just be a reflection.
The initial scene of the poem ‘Inside the hospital’ is a patient’s angiography. By means of learned associations, the poem proceeds to questioning the ability of language to depict things. The poem’s worn-out imagery and the patient’s worn-out heart, seen by the physician as a shadow image, enter into an ambiguous relationship.
The associative possibilities contained in a single word can open up quite splendidly. The poem ‘Standing at the bar’ deals with a familiar poetic theme, the passage of time, the past in memory’s present. With a couple of words, ‘government council’, ‘Bismarck’, the seemingly conventional text suddenly reveals a perspective from the historical past towards the present. The era of Russian domination (1809–1917) and the time when bourgeois women wore a bracelet named after the Iron Chancellor Bismarck are connected to Laine’s own generation’s fundamental political experience, the Vietnam War.
The collection ends with a poem titled ‘Job’s story’. It is a lyrical interpretation of one of Western literature’s core works; as the subtitle of Laine’s book reminds us, anyone pondering the role and fate of man may sooner or later find themselves poring over it.
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About the writer
Pertti Lassila (born 1949) is a literary scholar, writer and critic.
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