I learned yesterday while nosing around the internet that the Finnish poet Jarkko Laine passed away five years ago. I knew Jarkko only slightly, our paths having crossed when I was a Fulbright scholar in Helsinki during the early Reagan years. Once upon a time when Jarkko was visiting the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa I went with him to Moose Lake Minnesota to visit Robert Bly. Later Jarkko wrote a short essay about the trip for the Finnish magazine Parnasso. (He wrote touchingly of Bly’s affection for the poet David Ignatow, but left out the funniest thing for Bly told a cafe filled with hunting jacket clad Minnesotans that Jarkko was from Russia and was going to steal their blue jeans.)
Jarkko was an inventive and touching ironist–his poems tackled the runaway freight train of the sixties, all that cascading pop culture, but unlike the American “beats” he had a wonderfully Finnish sense–what you might call a homemade depth psychology. He could write lines like: withered leaves fly above the street, death’s butterflies, or, how sad! Everything! And how cheap to say it out loud!
Americans don’t think that way. I had planned long ago to translate Jarkko’s poetry into English as I admired his sang froid mitt tenderness. But my own blindness and daily struggle to live kept me from doing that. Then the years took the carriage.
But I will miss him. He would appreciate this little Chinese translation by Kenneth Rexroth:
A Sorrow in the Harem
Withered flowers fill the courtyard.
Moss creeps into the great hall.
On both sides everything was said long ago.
The smell of perfume still lingers in the air.
Wang Chang Ling