To dispel any illusions that the Estonians are still living in the era of wooden spoons, post-Soviet rural ruin, and the Kalevipoeg epic poem, a brief examination of their Ninniku online website, where contemporary and modern poetry is translated. The current issue contains poetry by Rumi, Plath, Creeley, Dove, Loy, Stein, H.D., Neruda, Hölderlin, Rilke, Hesse, Grass, Augustin, plus several Japanese poets.
Several leading Estonian poets double up as translators, something that more British poets could learn from. So, in older issues, the poet and novelist Tõnu Õnnepalu has translated Pessoa; poet Hasso Krull has translated Mohammad Dib and Tahar ben Jelloun from the French, and also Finnish poetry by Jouni Tossavainen; Maarja Kangro has translated Zanzotti from the Italian; Lauri Kitsnik has translated Fujii Sadakazu from the Japanese. The former head of the Estonian Writers' Union and translator of novels by Kafka, Döblin, etc., Mati Sirkel, has translated poetry by Claes Andersson. The editor of the literary magazine Vikerkaar (Rainbow) Mart Väljataga has taken on Brecht.
Although Estonia was busy publishing its own younger poets, this tradition of looking West for poetry was already there during the early years of Estonian independence back in the 1920s. If you leaf through a copy of the literary magazine Looming (Creative Endeavour) from the year 1924, you will find Estonian translations of a part of Childe Harold and contemporary Italian poetry. In 1928, you had the Czech Symbolist Vrchlický. In 1934, you had more Byron, some Alexander Pope, plus poetry by Aleksis Kivi. In 1936 there was Kipling. In 1937, you had Swinburne and Pushkin. In 1939, there were Fröding and Dante.
In early 1940, there was no translated poetry, but an article about translating poetry. Plus plenty of articles covering literature from abroad, like one by Jerzy Kaplinski, the father of the poet Jaan Kaplinski, discussing the Pole Tetmajer; and one about Wells; about new English poetry (mostly Eliot and Auden); about the English novel; a story by E.M. Forster; about Paris theatre life; about the Goncourt brothers; etc. No big panic about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, then in force.
Two issues did not appear. And when Looming returned in August 1940, others were looming at the helm. Suddenly, there were things about Gorki and Mayakovski, and no poetry at all from further west. The September issue started with "A Selection of Poetry From the Peoples of the Soviet Union". There were five poems: Russian, Checheno-Ingushetian (2), Mordvinian, and Georgian, translated, presumably from the Russian, by leading poet Marie Under, who later fled to Sweden. There was Pushkin and an article about the Russian historical novel. And October, ah, October. This issue starts with two full-page photos of Lenin and Stalin. There is a poem with the predictable title: October. And there is an article explaining what Socialist Realism is all about. From then onwards, half of each issue was filled with Russian material... The Western poets were gone.