Author: Lauri Otonkoski

A sensitive pessimist

30 December 2000 | Authors, Reviews

Pentti Saaritsa

Photo: Irmeli Jung

When we arrive in Oaxaca, we find a Sapotek culture pulsing with quiet wisdom, a people who, even in their appalling poverty, have preserved their joy in life, mezcal bars which threaten to overturn our blameless work schedules, and the house rented by the Finnish Writers’ Union, where the rooms we are shown to as are empty and unfurnished as the solitary confinement cells in the central jail.

But Pentti Saaritsa has the language skill and, more essentially, the art of relating to people as though he has been lifelong friends with the whole of humanity. During the first week, we explore the squares, markets and furniture stores of Oaxaca. Ritsa haggles with astonishing perseverance, with the result that, in the second week, we are the proud owners of two genuine Mexican desks, stools and standard lamps. But the typewriter takes up an entire chapter in Pentti Saaritsa’s autobiography. Untiringly, he finally reaches the price he wants. And so we settle in a town turned upside down by the Zapatista movement: ‘The Mexican typewriter has / its own handwriting: with letters that bounce / off the lines it continues / the story of my life….’ More…

No one can tell

31 March 1999 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Ahava (WSOY, 1998)

And life went on, went on as a kind of weird fugue,
               a forked path that drops across your eyes,
                    rejecting simple questions.
Which summer was that,
               I ask in December,
in a high room, with a tiled stove, a bricked up
          nostalgic sentence about the warmth of other times,
               a crossing where all the world's words
                         discover the the comparative degree of silence,
                                        the one with meaning.
Should I peep across a couple of cloudy stanzas to get a better view,
     but again my eye conjures up a medieval constricted soul.
All that's left is a thirst of all the senses, a frigid study of sentences,
                              of bones.


tulip, ‘tulip’, and Tulip

Issue 3/1996 | Archives online, Authors

There are times when, on first reading, an entire collection of poems seems anchored to a single line. The overture to Annukka Peura’s Erotus* (1995) ends with such a crystallized moment:

I pulled the curtains aside,
and there, behind the green-
speckled glass,

was the 20th century.

This expansive sigh became instantly memorable; the landscape it offers is so vast. Most works of art have, in addition to their title, some detail, line, or moment for which a space is reserved in one’s memory, privileged above the work’s other components. For me, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is represented by the adagietto’s veiled, secretive life, the cathedral at Chartres consists neither of the enormity of its towers nor the abundance of its rosette, but of the sacristy’s specific odor of sacral dust. More…

Around zero o’clock

Issue 2/1996 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from the collection Musta oli valkoinen (‘Black was white’, WSOY, 1995). Introduction by Jukka Koskelainen


			         When I learned to pay attention
to unlikely reptiles
to surprising glacier waters
to nightgowned rejections
to wall-mounted assault rifles 
to traveling angels
to lips shaped like promises
to mussels swimming in dreams 
to crashes, rules and funerals
to shady, secret sacristies
to the indecisiveness of dancing shoes
to the immeasurable indifference of looks like bullets 
to spring, myself and seductions slow as clouds
			                                     all of these
					                                         between the words,
was that when the difficulties began?

About the third

To stop waiting, the second step.
To be born of woman. The first.

The price of the word and the moon
	    are determined with the same weightless scales.

The third we don’t know about, don’t ask.

On the ear’s walk

The landscape's deepest melody flowed on
	     over the banks of the resounding Middle Ages.

Do you hear, do you hear it
the way a snail hears,
that snail there who teaches
learns from the earth’s replies, learning
the snail hears and gets there,
gets there for sure
even the slow one gets there,
even the slower one will
then get there, it will
surely get there, into the pot.


Herbal wisdom

New churches, old
	                       harmonized organs and repetitions 
like a prayer or a psalm for seven voices. 
Against scant blue
	               a hundred people
believe in pilots and safety belts. The wind
	                                                 just a little too strong.
But my heart it was, that loaded institution 
through four expectations it came 
	                                               here. Exactly here
where you, with both hands, 
	               almost inaudibly
intended to break
	              the fragrant life of a sprig of thyme.
That soundless break, the speech of dust, said all
			                                  I understood.

Around zero o’clock

Just be the shape of an angel, be, be 
	                be, be a screeching
   hatful of sleepless night	it dresses 
even the seagulls in diver's suits, be
	      be lazy intellect and come
to bed
be manager of nightmare
	  and conqueror of desire

	to say
Be the disease of saying 	Be the lifelong remedy
	   which 	                        whether you take it or not
	              certainly kills
Be the one who no longer is
	     a dab of the freedom of the void, a flight of three strides
out of thought's night	                    be

Because I’m jading

Translated by Anselm Hollo

Words of music

Issue 2/1993 | Archives online, Authors

Pentti Saaritsa believes that the perfect line of poetry is one from which all possible internal uncertainty has been honed away, which is based on lived reality, which stands up for the weak against injustice, which does not play games with words, whose strength lies in its rhythmic logic, above which spreads the sky and below which hell resounds. That is also the nature of his poetry. Resounding language.

In 1984 an ‘experimental’ group of musicians and composers, Toimii!, whose members included Esa-Pekka Salonen, currently principal conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and the composer Magnus Lindberg, commissioned from a work from Saaritsa. The result was Ascensus, a composition – at least in the sense that it is performed in concerts, and that Saaritsa receives the relevant copyright fees. On the other hand, it is also poetry – it has, after all, been published as part of a collection of poetry. More…