The following text is from the website (www.kirjasto.sci.fi/psaariko.htm) presenting Finnish poets and novelists. An introduction to Pentti Saarikoski - the leading Finnish poet of the 1960s, and later "the Best European Poet Alive" as he used to call himself, right before his death in 1983, - is reproduced here (without a permission) as a slightly edited and corrected version.

"Poet and a brilliant translator, the central figure in Finnish literature in the 1960s and 1970s. Saarikoski emerged into poetry somewhat like an enfant terrible, a combination of Dylan Thomas, Zorba the Greek, and Che Guevara. He wrote in simple, straight-forward language. He often used images from antiquity and contrasted everyday observations with philosophical insights, following free flow of thoughts.

Life is given to man
to make him consider carefully
the position he'd like to be dead in,

grey skies pass over,
the sky's a hanging garden
and earth comes into the mouth like bread.
(from Runot ja Hipponaksin runot, 1959)

Pentti Saarikoski was born in Impilahti into a family composed of civil servants, politicians, and small entrepreneurs. (...) Saarikoski studied literature and Greek at the University of Helsinki in the 1950s without receiving a degree. (...) In the early 1960s Saarikoski was already famous, not only as a poet and translator, but also as a bohemian. He had married about the time Runoja had appeared - it was his first marriage - but unable to settle down, he turned more and more to drink and by the autumn of 1962, he was on the brink of nervous breakdown. Saarikoski worked usually at home, in small apartments, where normal family life and writing intertwined, or conflicted: "These poems are written for her / under her eyes. (from En soisi sen päättyvän, 1968) Saarikoski was married four times, last time to Mia Berner, with whom he published the bilingual JA MEILLE JÄI KIIREETÖN ILTA / KVÄLLEN GÖR SIG INGEN BRÅDSKA (1975).

In the 1960s Saarikoski joined the Finnish Communist Party, as many other writers and artists. Politically Saarikoski was unorthodox, and in the magazine Aikalainen, which he edited and which was supported by the Finnish Communist Party, he published Mao Tse-tung's poems. (...) Saarikoski became one of the most visible intellectuals in the media, who was engaged in the front line of literary debates and political activities.

Partly to find peace for writing and to escape the publicity, Saarikoski made several journeys abroad. LAULU LAULULTA POIS (1966), a collection of poems, was born in Romania, where he was a quest of the local writers' association and participated in literature seminar on the works of Gheorghe Cosbuc. He had also an affair with the poet Sarah Kirsch, who moved in 1977 from German Democratic Republic to West Germany. AIKA PRAHASSA (1967) was written in Prague and in Tallin in Estonia, KIRJE VAIMOLLENI (1968, Swedish translation: Brev till hustrun), a stream-of-consciousness travel book, was mostly written in Dublin. It received poor critics in Finland but in Sweden Saarikoski was compared to such names as Strindberg and Henry Miller.

In Island Saarikoski started to work on KATSELEN STALININ PÄÄN YLI ULOS (1969), a collection of poems, where he took distance from the Communist movement and radicalism, stating that no revolution has overthrown the power. He is also afraid that in the new order there is no place for him: "What would happen to me / if there was a war and they closed the borders? I couldn't go anywhere, disqualified as I am / from soldiering; I suppose / I'd have to sit up nights, composing / orders for the day."

Saarikoski translated works from a number of authors into Finnish, among them J.D. Salinger, Euripides, Italo Calvino, Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, James Joyce, Sappho, and Philip Roth. The translation of Homer's Odyssey, based on Victor Bérard's edition, took only two years, which is a kind of world record. A number of translations appeared in the literary magazine Parnasso. James Joyce's Ulysses was one of Saarikoski's major works, which influenced also his other projects. Italo Calvino's humor left traces in his poems.

Saarikoski's favorite tool with English texts was Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Usually he did not follow slavishly the original writing. In The Odyssey by Homer he abandoned hexameter, which Otto Manninen had used in his unsurpassed translation from 1924, and developed a rhythmical prose style. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye Saarikoski moulded into his own visionary Helsinki slang, not very faithfully to the world of Holden Caulfied. With J.P. Donleavy's famous novel The Ginger Man Saarikoski failed and another translator finished it. However, the work was credited to Saarikoski.

Because of heavy drinking, Saarikoski was hospitalized several times. Following disappointments in politics, Saarikoski become again interested in early Christianity, and started to translate Matthew's Gospel. Not very originally, he identified Jesus and his chosen followers with revolutionaries. Especially the character of Ernersto "Che" Guevara (1928-1967) fascinated him. After a catastrophic journey to London, Saarikoski was rushed to hospital. He weighted 57 kilos and was diagnosed with Alcoholismus chronicus, Epilepsia symtomatica, Chirrosis hepatis, and Encopresis. (...) Saarikoski's translation of the Gospel of St. Matthews, came out in 1969. The work was perhaps partly inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini's film The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), a stark and sober retelling of the Gospel, which earned Pasolini the label of Catholic-Marxist.

Characteristic for Saarikoski's personal life was his nonconformist attitude to social conventions. At the same time his works showed influence from classical literature from Greece and Rome - this side in Saarikoski was not a sign of conservatism. He had a good nose for picking up dissident poets and philosophers of the classical world, such as Hipponax and Heraclitus, or drunkards, troublemakers, and sex maniacs, whose verses he presented in JALKAPOLKU (1977), a selection from The Greek Anthology.

In the 1970s Saarikoski retired from publicity. He moved with his wife to Kerava, where he become interested in Eino Leino (1878-1926), a poet, with whom he identified himself in the biography EINO LEINO (1974). His works showed resurgence of the Greek influence, and he became deeply preoccupied with contemporary science and the hazards of the nuclear age. In the essay 'Minun runoni ja minun aatteeni' (1978, my poems and my thoughts) he expressed hope that knowledge will win out over brute power.

Saarikoski moved to Sweden, where he lived from 1975 to 1983 with Mia Berner, a critic and university teacher, on the island of Tjörn near Valsäng. In 1975 they made a journey to Greece. Saarikoski, who did not drink as much as usually, fell asleep at the Acropolis.

In Sweden Saarikoski produced in his "second classical period" trilogy of verse, TANSSILATTIA VUORELLA, TANSSIINKUTSU and HÄMÄRÄN TANSSIT. The melancholy and ironic series, known as Tiarnia trilogy, shows Saarikoski's extensive knowledge of gnosticism, and viewed such mythological figures as Sisyphus, Ulysses, and Hercules in present-day political situations. The poet tells he can hear "the voice of the world", and he realizes that "Only when the minotaur has been destroyed / and the labyrinth transformed into dance / polity, politics / will be possible again". Saarikoski invitates the reader to dance, he has signed the invitation but he is also a dancer, a kind of pagan shaman, who has "eaten of the knowledge of good and evil".

EUROOPAN REUNA (1982), Saarikoski's last travel book, began on his stay in Brittany, France, where he studied Breton with Le breton sans peine. With Mia Berner he spent some days in Dublin. The city was celebrating the 100th anniversary of James Joyce. Saarikoski called Mia his 'Molly Bloom'. He had no regrets about moving to Sweden, but before his death he planned to return to Finland.

Pentti Saarikoski died of hepatic cirrhosis on August 24, in 1983, during his visit in Finland. His grave at the Orthodox monastery of Valamo in Heinävesi is a popular visiting place for his readers.

Several volumes of Saarikoski's diaries have appeared posthumously, the first from the years 1953-57. It reveals his sexual fantasies, and his religious and ideological struggle. Saarikoski did not hesitate to record intimate details of his life for posterity - on August 2, 1954 he has masturbated on the page. Saarikoski became a legend already during his life time, and was referred in works of such Finnish authors as Väinö Kirstinä, Tuomas Anhava, Kari Aronpuro, Matti Paavilainen, Pekka Kejonen, Hannu Salama, Jorma Ojaharju. In Sweden Werner Aspenström, Willy Granqvist, Bernt Rosengren, Tobias Berggren and Göran Sonnevi have written in their poems about Saarikoski. The Hungarian writer Sándor Csoóri mentions also Saarikoski in one poem. In Finland Väinö Kirstinä stated ironically in 1963: "jos lukee saarikoskea 10 minuuttia / alkaa henki haista viinalta (...)" (if you read Saarikoski for ten minutes / your breath starts to smell of liquor)."


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