Doris Kareva (born in Tallinn in 1958) is a world class poet. English language translations of her work have been appearing piecemeal in anthologies such as Windship with Oars of Light, Tuulelaeval valgusest on aerud (which Kareva also compiled for Huma Books, Estonia) and Being alive (Bloodaxe Books,UK) for 20 years but her discrete 2005 collection Shape of time, Aja kuju, is now available thanks to UK publishers, Arc.
The Estonian media is fond of referring to Kareva’s poetry as “ a pearl of Estonian literature” but this is a misnomer. Make no mistake, Kareva’s work is rare and fine but her lyric poetry is not a semi-precious substance formed in watery obscurity: it is a 24 karat, industrial strength diamond functioning in a steely world. Gentle spirits wanting a quiet approach to life, love and the universe should beware as should moral and spiritual pygmies and lazy intellects. This poetry demands undivided concentration on all fronts.
The poetess’ subject matter ranges from the impact of love and life on the individual to a contemplation of abstract universal truths. Mundane and metaphysical themes are examined by an inquisitive mind with the sharpness of a bacon slicer and a technique able to describe the dissection with incisive clarity. The gamut of links to traditional Estonian poetry are strong - the love of beauty (ilomeel), the recklessness of the runaway serf or soldier, arcane obscurity and the use of alliteration and rhythm. There is also a laconic approach (á la Liiv), a sly sense of humour (including self mockery, á la Alver), eroticism (á la Under) and the desire (á la Hurt) to be great in spirit. Other links signal west (Emily Dickinson – cool, detached) and east (Anna Ahkmotova, hot, involved) to fellow souls with a passion for communication, commitment and a strict command of language. But, at the end of the day, Kareva's work is more than the sum of its eclectic parts and the poetic personality that emerges is startling and original. Doris Kareva is her own woman, a poetess rooted in Estonian keel ja meel (language and mind set) but also a citizen of the world, a complex and intensely alive human being.
Compliments are due for the translation of tortuously difficult texts (and an informative preface on the process of translation) by Esto-American Tiina Aleman and to the distinguished UK poetess Penelope Shuttle for her elegant introduction. Rounding off with Jung’s observation that questions are always more important than answers Shuttle concludes that “Doris Kareva’s poetry asks the most real of questions. She is an awakener.” Amen. Aficionados of exceptional poetry should acquire this book as a matter of urgency.
Six Estonian poets is also published by Arc (as part of their New voices from Europe and beyond series) with dual Estonian-English texts. Parallel texts are an excellent tool for learning any foreign language and, as they are extremely rare in the case of Estonian-English translation both books are to be welcomed on these grounds alone.
[/i]Six Estonian poets[/i] is an authoritative collection edited by Doris Kareva (see above), the literature editor for Looming (Creation), a leading cultural journal in Estonia. Kareva, an experienced and respected translator, presents a selection of poets (often the winners of national competitions) active through the 1970’s to the present. All the major styles of modern Estonian poetry are represented from the deeply influential, quirky, work of performance artist Juhan Viiding (active during the 1970s and 1980s) to dialect poetry in Võro kiil (the local language of Southeast Estonia) by Kauksi Ülle with, in between, various manifestations of modernism and post modernism represented by Hasso Krull, Jürgen Rooste, Triin Soomets and Elo Viiding. The emotions and opinions expressed embrace a range of styles, political and social views that reflect the diversity and cultural sophistication of modern Estonia. A team of seven translators gives the Estonian speaker an opportunity to contrast and compare the techniques used to render this notoriously difficult Estonian language into English. Ideally this book should be bought in tandem with editor Kareva’s Shape of time (see above) in order to gain a holistic picture of contemporary Estonian poetry.
Two important Estonian-English publications of modern poetry!