An Interview to Doris Kareva

  1. Thinking back, poetry was always there. As an only child, growing up with my grandparents, I had plenty of time to exercise my imagination and play with words. Between two rooms in the tiny flat there was a little swing – and while swinging I used to sing.  Words just came to me, as they do to children of 2-3 years, or like songs were born in folk poetry, naturally. Sometimes I made up spells, when I was alone and afraid of darkness for example. By the age of four, however, I felt something missing in most of children`s poetry – realistic and optimistic at that time, it often felt artificial, making things too simple. It was a book of children`s verse by a Polish writer Jan Brzechwa, translated into Estonian by Kalju Kangur, that struck me as real –  I  became a poetry addict. And I wanted to write myself.
  2. The critics have in time labelled me a generation or youth poet, a love poet, a fatherland poet, a religious or metaphysical poet…One usually finds it hard to define himself, since every mind is a whole universe for its owner. But since I was in a way brought to literary world by chance, getting published before I was psychologically ready, at the age of fourteen, I have been working with young authors for decades. It is such a joy to discover fresh talents before they are aware of their capacities or corrupted by ambitions. But of course, they are always rare.
  3. I usually don`t have themes. What I try to do, is to convey the feeling, awareness of the moment. And those moments are always unexpected, intense, often controversial, even painful insights of what I did not know a moment before. Mostly about relatedness, maybe – between man and woman, man and society, man and universe…
  4. I used to write compulsively in my teens; even thinking in variating rhythms; my inner dialogue never left me. Now I have discovered the ocean of silence – sometimes words come to me, but often I don`t even write them down. I mostly pay attention to lines that are born unconsciously, which hold a mystery for myself, something to discover later.
  5. Surely, every meeting with unknown, be it a person or landscape, art or nature, changes one`s Weltanschauung, adds depth or width to it. By nature I am on a constant pilgrimage, not settled anywhere, always open to new experience.
  1. Kalevipoeg is a quite unique piece of literature. There are basically two types of epics in the world: those based on authentic folklore, reflecting primeval tribal conscience – like Greek Iliad, the medieval Icelandic songs of Edda or Lönnrots`s Kalevala – and individual verse epics  like Virgil`s Aeneid, to be followed in the late Middle Ages by the French Chanson de Roland, the Spanish Cantar de mio Cid, the German Nibelungenlied etc.

Kalevipoeg is often associated with Finnish folk epic Kalevala, an indigenous song-cycle of a pre-literate culture. However, it differs from the latter  radically.      Though occasionally based on legend, Kalevipoeg is first and foremost a written creation composed by  Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, meant to be read, not sung.

First, Kalevipoeg is a national-patriotic epic par excellence, designed to inspire a nation by its great deeds of the past and to project its future. Beyond doubt, it has been essential in the forging of the national awakening movement in the 19th century, and in the persistence of national memory and the ideal of freedom during the 20th century, while under the foreign occupations and repressions that the Estonians have had to suffer.

At the same time, however, it is a myth-creating, polyphonic and ambivalent text. As the experience of world literature convincingly shows, only such texts are capable of generating an abundance of new texts as well as metatexts. And every epoch has provided Kalevipoeg with new meanings, at the same time nearly always muting other sounds and voices in the work that have become incomprehensible or uncomfortable. For me it is surprising, how often some lines or images in Kalevipoeg are still referred to in everyday life.

And another surprise – in the garden of Martigny Art Museum one can see a sculpture that could easily be Kalevipoeg – a sturdy warrior with a heavy sword and missing legs!

  1. Maybe half of Estonian writers are also translators indeed. It feels so natural to gather the rare pollen from faraway fields and transform it into honey in your own beehive. Estonians are quite well aware of the world culture; however, there is much of Swiss literature still to be discovered.
  2. The number of voices has multiplied enormously. Just recently I happened to read a critical review by Paul Viiding from the year 1961, saying that within one year as many books of poetry were published as in three years previously – seven! Nowadays, seven books of poetry appear maybe within a month. Also, instead of one central and well-controlled publishing company we now have more than a hundred publishers. Estonian literature can be compared to a bonsai tree; with all different branches and forms represented, even if the number of readers is less than one million.
  3. After publishing a book of tales in late autumn and a book of poetry in early summer, both compiled over a longer period, I am now enjoying translating – or rather interpreting – Rumi`s mystical writing, comparing different translations and regretting having no access to the original.
  4. The whole trip has been one of peak experiences in my life – to see such a harmonious balance between nature and culture. Valais is a blessed country, with all its fresh water, fertile land and inspiring, breathtakingly beautiful sights. Every day opened a new angle to me – be it a Five Continents festival in Martigny or famous Montreaux Jazz Festival, picturesque lakes like St Leonard or Champex Lac, cascades in Gorges Durand or bookshops and impressive stone church in St Pierre-de-Clages…Sitting next to an edelweiss bed at the monastery in St Bernard, looking at the majestic landscape was an almost Faustian moment of perfect bliss. High mountains, fresh air and the soft vibrational sound of bells, taste of juicy apricots and sight of a rainbow over a glacier still linger in my memories and dreams.

I was most impressed by the noble generosity of the landscape reflected in people and I am deeply grateful for the unforgettable and uplifting experience. There is no greater gift than genuine friendship – I feel as I`ve discovered a whole new continent.