Action Books, 2007
Reviewed by Summer Block
The Edge of Europe can be considered stream of consciousness, a series of apparently disordered meditations that proceed nimbly one from the next, from housecats to saunas to Kierkegaard to Brigitte Bardot, a sort of frontier of the mind that echoes Saarikoski’s peripatetic frontier-hopping out at the edges of his troubled continent, in fishing villages in stark Norway or among the surly Bretons in France. Yet the stream of consciousness feeling is deceptive: behind the apparently aimless meandering of Saarikoski’s thoughts lies a tight series of causes and effects laid out in a style as mannered and artful as T.S. Eliot’s. Saarikoski always seems very much in control of his mind and of his writing, even when incapacitated by drink or by pity.
As he wanders, Saarikoski muses on Munich, Chagall, etymology, James Joyce, Odysseus, and the long, strange history of Europe’s wild places, including Vladimir Lenin’s own roots in "Chuvash territory." Yet the poet’s engagement with the physical world servers as a constant corrective to his corrosive intellect, throwing up lines like, "To my mind, the spruce is the most beautiful tree. It is the only tree that seems to know what it is," or "A cloud floats across the sky. Somehow, curiously, it looks as if it were lying on its back," or at last, more bleakly, "the sky is blue and turns the water blue as well, but when you look at them closely, neither is any color at all."
A novella is rarely the best introduction to a poet’s work, or a private journal to an artist’s more polished successes, but The Edge of Europe serves as a fine introduction to Saarikoski, the man as well as the poet. This slim volume is a fine example of a great mind at work on his life’s long project: "I was reminded of the spring evenings of my youth in Helsinki, lonely walks and rambles by the seaside, when it had already become clear that something in my life had gone irrevocably wrong. I started writing books in order to find out when and where that had happened, and writing I found out many things, but not that one."
Summer Block has published essays, short fiction, and poetry in a variety of publications, including McSweeneys, Small Spiral Notebook, DIAGRAM, the San Francisco Chronicle, Monkeybicycle, Stirring, ALARM, Identity Theory, January Magazine, and Rain Taxi. Find her work at http://www.summerblock.com/.