Saturday, 21 March 2009

Elo Viiding


One of the most interesting contemporary Estonian poets is Elo Viiding (born 1974). Viiding comes from a literary dynasty. Her grandfather Paul Viiding (1904-1962) was a short-story writer. Her grandmother Linda Viiding (1906-2003) was a translator of Finnish literature. Her father was the major Estonian poet Juhan Viiding (1948-1995).

But despite all this, Elo Viiding stands out as an important poet in her own right.

Elo Viiding's poetry is often zany with strange jumps of associations, as you can even see from the titles of her collections below. Nevertheless, the subject matter of her poetry is commitment to society and its changes. She is often tongue-in-cheek, introducing a healthy dose of humour into her poetry. And, indeed, into her stories. She is not living in the ivory tower of æstheticism. She is pro-women's rights, but has a complex relationship with feminism. Indeed one of the articles on her blog from October 2008 is entitled "Conservative Feminism", where she discusses her attitudes to that phenomenon. One of her most amusing poems, which I myself have translated into English, is entitled "Mothers' Day". In it, Viiding mocks the rather patronising attitude of the Prime Minister who comes to open some Mothers' Day event. She also mocks the expectations of people who expect mothers to fit into a number of neat, rather twee, categories, plus being biologically programmed for the charms of motherhood.

Elo Viiding published her first collections under the pseudonym "Elo Vee". On her father's death, she took back the family name. Her first publication was the chapbook "Telg" (Axis; 1990) which formed part of what are known as "cassettes", i.e. groups of four or five chapbooks by different poets in a cardboard wrapper. After that, she published "Laeka lähedus (roughly: Proximity to Treasure; 1993), "Võlavalgel" (roughly: "In the Light of Debt"; 1995); "V" (idem; 1998, now as Elo Viiding); "Esimene tahe" (roughly: First Volition; 2002); "Teatud erandid" (Certain Exceptions; 2003) and "Selge jälg" (A Clear Trace; 2005). She has also published two collections of short-stories.

Those of you who read Estonian can consult her blog.

Elo Viiding has been translated into several languages, perhaps most of all by the exile Estonian Peeter Puide who, for instance, published translations of Elo Viiding's poetry in two recent issues of the Finland-Swedish cultural weekly "Ny Tid", a periodical which is examined in two other threads of this blog. Puide also translated a selection of her poems into Swedish. This is entitled "För en stämma" and appeared with the Ariel publishing house in 2004, a press that also produces the literary periodical "Ariel".

I myself published the English translation of the poem "Mothers' Day" in an English-language issue of the Swedish literary magazine 00TAL, and a few more of her poems in the Canadian Nordic and Baltic poetry anthology "The Baltic Quintet". I have also sent a short-story of hers to the Dalkey Archive Press in Illinois, for one of their occasional publications. This story mocks how patronising, well-off women used to come over from Sweden and used to lecture their Estonian "sisters" during Soviet times on how to be liberated from their husbands, while not understanding a thing about the material circumstances that governed the role of women in Soviet society - especially those married to poets. Elo Viiding saw this all at first hand as a teenager, when women translators and others visited her poet father, no doubt to name-drop back in Sweden, in the same way that exile Estonians from Sweden used to boast about having met poet Jaan Kaplinski.

Suffice it to say that for all their complexity, and occasional obscurity, most of Elo Viiding's works, with their zany commitment, are eminently translatable.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the info on this remarkable poet. She is a discovery for me, have only read about her in Lyrikline.(http://lyrikline.org/index.php?id=162&L=1&author=ev01&show=Bio&cHash=1e958e2d1e)
    However mother's day I can only find in German translation. Is there an English translation available somewhere?
    like your blog. Regards Ginster

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