Monday, November 29, 2010

Off the Shelf Archive - November #3

This ironic little study on the vagaries of government and society by Finnish post-modern poet Pentti Saarikoski now goes into the archive to make room for an indulgence on my part. Probably one of the three most seminal poems to my own worldview, this may not be the best poem Wallace Stevens ever wrote (that would be 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, in my very humble opinion) or the most anthologized, but remains my personal favorite. So without further ado, his poem of transition, life, lust, hate, disgust, love, and survival, Farewell to Florida. (Bear with me, the dark winter's just around the corner, and nothing could go along with it more fittingly.)

As with all the Off the Shelf selections, feel free to comment on either of these poems in this post here in the main stream since comments are disabled on the actual page, and also feel free to recommend a poet you'd like to see in Off the Shelf next time. I'm thinking it's time for a woman.

From The Invitation to The Dance, entry XXX by Pentii Saarikovski:


The tyrants were
people who took off their clothes
and put them on
worked late
shuffled papers
and citizens 
from the In tray
to the Out tray
now government has no cordiality
the tyrants have been rationalized away
now machines that don’t get tired
or drunk
or dance Cossack dances
do the work
they talk like barbed wire being stretched
and you can hear what you are
you are a number one two three 
or a four or a five a six a seven
or zero
these machines wouldn’t be possible
if they hadn’t been invented

Penttii Saarikoski

Translated from the Finnish by Anselm Hollo

Top photo credit



Penttii Saarikovski was a Finnish poet, translator, bohemian, political activist and enfant terrible of Finland's literary landscape during the  Sixties and Seventies. You can find some information about his life and times here in his wikipedia entry  and also here.This poem is taken from the second entry in his Trilogy, Invitation to the Dance (1980) which represents some of his last published work.


  1. "now government has no cordiality" - which it had so little to begin with as to be almost non-existent.

    There's a flat quality to this poem that lends even more weight to his words. Flat probably isn't the right word, but I'm not feeling well and that's the best one I can come up with right now. :)

  2. I'm going to read "Off The Shelf" when I'm feeling better. :)

  3. Yes, his whole style is like that, like he's thinking out loud. A lot of it is almost Zen-ish. I'm sorry to hear you're not feeling well. Rest, bed, liquids, and aspirins for you, Taloned one. Come back when you feel better.

  4. I like the part about the machines not getting tired or drunk. Ah, but there's much else they don't do too...

  5. If they don't do Cossack dances, to hell with them.

  6. PS--How about Christina Rossetti? I know you seem to like the moderns better, but she is really worth getting to know.

  7. Like the moderns better than Goblin Market? Am I not a hedgewitch?? Is she not in my list of favorite dead poets? Rossetti it is--gives me an excuse to re-read her.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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