Six Estonian Poets,
edited by Doris Kareva (165pp, Arc)
Self-Portrait With A Swarm of Bees, Jan Wagner,
translated by Iain Galbraith, (129pp, Arc)
(O), Sophie Mayer,
The Midnight Letterbox, Selected Correspondence 1950-2010,
Edwin Morgan, edited by Mames
McGonigal and John Coyle
(534pp, £19.99, Carcanet)
Each poet in Six Estonian Poets is introduced. Here is the opening of
Kauski Ülle is the central
figure of the South Estonian
regional movement, a
writer in, and promoter of, the
dialect of southern Estonia.
She was born in 1962, the other poets included are of that generation apart
from the first, Juhan Vilding, born 1948. Even this beginning of a context -
where is Estonia exactly, what is its modern history, what traditions have
been the making of its poetry? - appear to make a clear reading of the poems,
and not least in translation (there are three co-translators of Kauski †lle and more for the whole book), impossibly
But here is the opening of Kauski Ülle's
'Greeting to mothers and mothers' mothers'
Greetings to the mother
to the kindly primal
who keeps all the world
spreader of both warmth
it is to you that we bow
tying lengths of white
yard for you
call your power to make
and give power to our
for the good of all the
take a mouthful of the
and I think yes, there is difference here and there is powerful writing,
alive with it, and how happy a thing to have it now in English. It
communicates across boundaries and it is new. The book has an urgency about
it, a patience too, a life-blessedness:
I formed you and found
rightness in your light,
until your pain
alarmed me: you are
Rain tumbled onto my
wind rocked my body.
You are other
This is the whole of a poem, or part of a loose sequence, untitled, by Triin
Soomets. The book has poems by three women and three men. On this evidence,
Estonia's poetry seems alive and very well, and I would recommend this
bilingual collection as exemplary for groups, colleges and for open-hearted
From the introductions by Karen Leeder and the translator Iain Galbraith to
Jan Wagner's poems - 'an unerring instinct for the surprising perspective on
events or commonlace objects', 'highly self-conscious play with language',
'the poem as a horse (after Michael Donaghy)' - one gets the idea: the poems
are bold, playful and confidently constructed. Born 1971, he lives in Berlin
and has published six books of poems. I suspect that this book opens itself
to you, or not, according to what mood you bring to it.
the landscape blurred as
soon as it saw him.
a dare-devil, a son of a
with his star-spangled
and a bike-engine's swarm
of angry hornets
constantly in pursuit.
his bones broke,
his bones fixed - and he
[punctutation as it says]
hardly more real than the
and as rare as sphinx or
whose offspring it was
thought to be
when first it came to
light, a medusa's head
in the mirror of a
a snow-white fish with
the country folk called
its cry like that of a
its skill: to be
and so it grows old, and
those who seek it.
These are the opening stanza of 'Elegy for Knievel' and the opening section
of 'Olm'. My feeling now is that this is not a book to which I would remember
to return, while I can see it might appeal to writers who are working in a
In severe contrast to anything of the
above, Sophie Mayer's '(O)' is a romp of narration. I have never heard her
live, never heard her voice but seem to hear it now. The book is all voice.
Is she a voracious reader, does she listen in in every way she can to
whatever she can, is she for ever translating English into English?
There is her slow mode -
Euripides wrote two plays
about Iphigenia. They are our main
source for her story, and
he told it backwards: in the first play,
Iphigenia among the
Taurians, she is alive
and the war is over.
The god that wanted her
dead has saved her.
- and I am happy to listen patiently to where she takes it (I am quoting some
way into the seven and a bit pages of 'Silence, Singing') and there is more
of the newsy narrative of this kind, of the ancients, and there is, for
instance, a 'Pas de Deux - for Mike and Heather', which begins,
You have always been
moving towards and towards.
From out of the north and
the west, through orchard and
prairie, running and
dancing and longing,
It's not all sweetness and light, there's a Biblical talkback - 'David's
First Drafts' - with sections beginning typically (this the first),
Fuck you, Bathsheba,
and your little dog, too.
invited to this party.
off the list.
Buy this book for the group, for the university essay, for a personal
journey. Language lives.
I met Edward Morgan (1920-2010) a few
times at events; both in person and through his poetry he seemed
warm-hearted, deeply versed, playful, inventive and justly Scotland's first
Makar - its Poet Laureate. This heavy book of his letters is of course
valuable for the archives, not least for Scottish cultural history, given the
correspondents, now gathered here, but it allows us into cultural business
more than it does into the life of the mind and heart.
Always a book of a writer's letters tells us to whom he wrote while leaving
us to wish we had the other side of the correspondence. I suppose some of
these in the to and fro here will be published separately, links will be
made, but the book is not conversation; and most of it is business: of
events, of publishing, of arrangements.
'Lanark has caused
quite a stir; got a long review in the TLS , is selling well in
America,.....' is typical of much of what is to be found here; 'I am
enclosing a dozen concrete poems for the 'typographical' exercise. They
present a variety of printing problems' but I hope....', 'Thank you for your
letter, I regret this a lot. I am very sorry I couldn't go to the Edinburgh
meeting....', and so on. This last letter, to Magnus Magnusson in September
1962, does get into the fray about aspects of his poetry: 'I think you know I
am not a pedant, and I believe it is possible to write both interestingly and
popularly, but that sort of matey facetiousness gets us nowhere.'
Yes, there are moments when he is present as the poet he was in print and in
his public readings, with energy, conviction and humour and there is much
that can be dug out here if you will wade through the rest; but thank the
gods we have his poems in print and some recordings of his voice,YouTube
His correspondents include Al Alvarez, Stephen Bann, Bob Cobbing, T.S.Eliot,
Ian Hamilton Finlay (lots), Allen Ginsberg, Anselm Hollo, Vladimir Mayakovsky
and Gael Turnbull.
© David Hart 2015