Nets of Light is a bilingual book of poetry, both in English and Finnish, by Luisa-Claudia Sovijärvi. And I suspect we can all agree that the Finnish title is more beautiful. Voloverkot. What a word!
As observant readers of Culture Smuggling surely suspect this is a sequel to last Monday’s article – and that’s exactly so. Let us briefly revisit the scene:
“Then a bearded person in a flowery dress enters with a picnic basket full of poetry. She offers me a copy and since one of the books turns out to be bilingual, printed in both English and Finnish, I can’t but buy it, us bilingual poets must stick together.”
The poet that sold me the book was said Luisa-Claudia Sovijärvi and this is certainly an uneven book, and so is the quality of the translations, but there is some vibrancy to it and two of the longest poems in the book are also its best. One is called “Utö,” which I first assumed was the Finnish or Swedish name of the Norwegian Utoya, which you all know from the news – but a quick online search shows me two islands by that name, one near Stockholm and the other near Helsinki. The poem starts on an island yet mostly takes place in a city, a northern city, which is a galaxy city most of the year because of its darkness and the stars it brings out. This is a dreamlike roller coaster through the darkness of a northern city, probably Helsinki, and has a lot of fascinating imagery. Yet the poem I’m going to zoom in on here is psychedelic mushroom poem “Psilocybin.” Psilocybin happens to me some hallucinatory chemicals found in mushrooms – but unlike “Utö” and many other poems in the book there is little hallucination to be had here.
What first caught my eye was this lovely ode to idleness, that underrated act:
doing nothing in particular
– the value of zero is immense!
But right after, this confession:
I’ve always been safe
warmth of the womb around me still
Oh, so this is a spoilt little rich kid from the west? is the thought that then pops into your head, suspicions that are soon confirmed:
Finland, I have given you nothing,
but I have gained it all
I have been unemployed my entire adult life
free to wonder about by the winds
The honesty in describing their own privilege is refreshing – yet I can’t help but hate the speaker a little. I too want to wonder about by the winds and let go of that darn work, once and for all. But I can’t. Most of us can’t. Perhaps I could if I was Finnish and the Finnish welfare system is as generous as those lines imply – or, which I suspect, that there are wealthy and generous parents helping out too.
Yet those lines still make you ponder this dilemma of many of us among the western left: we do live a life of many privileges and it can be strange to talk about the injustice of the world from that pedestal. Even if you are far below the minimum wage with no job security to speak of in an unstable freelance economy, like yours truly, I often feel my own privilege, even towards the Czechs in the shop downstairs, who slave away most nights, so I can buy groceries at any time and probably earn even less than me. And so on and so on, it all depends on what context we put ourselves in. Towards the world, our country, the place we’re in, and also depending on what we’re thinking about, income, assets og quality of life, mobility or happiness itself. To understand the language where you live, sometimes even enjoying not understanding it and being able to temporarily forget that their politicians are even worse then back home.
But yes, this is the dilemma. We all deserve to wonder about by the winds, be it Finns, Icelanders or Czechs, Senegalese, Mongols or Chileans. And this home provides those opportunities, if we only change the system. But until that happens, and that could be a long time, until then our reality will be that I hate this Finnish loving speaker in the poet for his careless wind-wondering (in an unemployment much more joyful then most I’ve heard of, whether it’s thanks to the Finnish system or wealthy parents), meanwhile the men working night-shifts in the shop below hate that freelancing Icelander for not having to slave away like them and the bums hate the guys in the shop for having a job and the Icelandic bums hate the Czech ones for at least having warm summer nights and so on and so forth until the end of the universe.
This jealousy is justified but the blame doesn’t really lie with us exactly, not even if we voted those parties over us. That is, me and the speaker in the poem have no excuses – but those who slave away the most and have done for the longest time seldom find the time to fight for their rights, be it by educating themselves about their vote in some other way. Most of us never really have enough time to fight for our rights.
This jealousy is there – and it poisons us and creates a lack of understanding. Consider those lines from the poem as proof:
Finland I love you, your language and how it bends,
the moss on the rocks
as much as I hate your workers and your bourgeois
sadistic clerks, the war and deportation flights,
your animal farmers, your politicians
the emptying eyes of the normals in the bars.
Did you stop by the same lines I did? The workers and the normals. Because they don’t have the education we do, because they vote for the right even if it’s bad for them, because they are susceptible to the fear-mongering about immigrants, because they slave away so much they don’t really have the time to think and to ponder and to educate themselves. And that’s why they hate us – us the poets, journalists, weirdos, because they don’t understand us, but because they know our world will never be theirs.
Some of them are, economically, better off then us. Some are not. Some have chosen their lot, others haven’t. Those descriptions fit some of them well, others not too well. And there are workers who will be poets and poets who will be workers. I’ve been both.
But this is their game, to divide and conquer. The Romans still rule us, only under a different name. And somewhere there lies the dilemma: two groups, nothing alike – that still long for the same: a world that is not just about slaving away, where we can all wonder by the winds – and when we’re flying perhaps it turns out we’re not so different after all.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson