Friday, 19 June 2009

Igor Kotjuh: four poems

One of the more interesting poets of the younger generation in Estonia is Igor Kotjuh. Although he writes most of his poetry in Russian, and is also a translator of Estonian poetry, he has published one collection written in Estonian, entitled Teises keeles (In a Second Language).

It is obvious that given the interaction, or lack thereof, of the two language communities there is a certain amount of tension between them. Kotjuh is one of the people in the field of culture who tries to bridge this gap. His surname could be spelt "Kotyukh", to follow the usual English transliteration of Russian and Ukrainian names. But as he is citizen of Estonia, his name has a fixed Roman alphabet spelling. Spelling can therefore be a cultural, even political, gesture.

Here are four poems from this collection, which was first published by the Tuum publishing house in 2007:


Everything has been written down, said, described.
With a polished iamb, trochee, dactyl,
amphibrach and anapest.
Cast in sestinas, sonnets,
blank verse and triolets.
Spiced with
masculine, feminine, full,
detached, attached,
paired (though not
in the bar) and cross-rhymes.
Furthermore a cæsura and enjamb-
ement.. Everything said already.

Postmodernism. A great resonance
in literature. A parade of names, a carpet
of quotations. The re-animation of classics,
the cobbling together of plain texts.
A paradise for lazy semioticists
and critics, making the supreme effort
to look down on other themes.

All those “compared with” and “linked to” --
as there wasn’t enough life to go round.
No intrigue. Where is the mousetrap?

Mixing, foregrounding,
appealing to history
and nostalgia –
with such you can start work as a DJ.

Maybe we too are dead,
and the XXI century is advancing in a dream.

Sunses and sunrises,
sensations, tales.

The living resonance is a parrot.
Throw him a word,
and he will repeat it
nimbly. Five times.

Or even more.

I’ve no desire to count them all
for I like the nightingale.



I’ve got the message!

A poet is free.

And that is why
in his poetry he is

(even though he has been
married for twenty years and has
seven kids).




There’s your mother-tongue
and another language.

But the person’s
the same.


There’s yesterday
and there’s poetry

Every poet is a human being.
Not vice-versa.


A person can have a command
of another language

in life or poetry.

from birth
or from later on in life.

This language is always
his eternal second.



A city spread over several islands,
on the north-western coast of Norway,
with a narrow sound like a trout’s
maw, receiving
barges and cruise liners. The streets
begin at the shore and lead to the shore.
A flock of balconies overlooks the sea.
A city of bright colours, for 20,000
people. During working hours
it is variegated here: shops, factories,
bars... But on Sundays
the city sleeps till lunchtime, the picture
dulls. And a few pensioners
drive back and forth in their expensive cars.

Translated from Estonian by Eric Dickens


Лев Грицюк | Lev Hrytsyuk said...

Thank you very much for this post! I know Kotjuh translated another great poet from Estonia - fs. So it's a pleasure to read his poems in your translation. Is the Kotjuh phenomenon the same as the Orbita phenomenon in Latvia (they are also making bridges between Russian and Latvian communities; great gyus!)? Are there such bridge-builders in Lithuania as well, I wonder? :-)

Eric Dickens said...

Lev, I think, largely thanks to the efforts of Igor Kotjuh and a few others, there is a link-up between the Russian-language authors of Finland, the three Baltic countries, Leningrad (oops, Saint Petersburg), and the Kaliningrad oblast.

For instance, the 2/2006 issue of Vozdushnyi zmei, published in Tartu, contains poetry or prose by Semën Khanin & Zhorzh Uallik & Sergei Timofeev (Riga), Yelena Eltang & Erika Drungyte (Vilnius), Aleksandr Skidan & Daria Sukhovei (St. Petersburg), Polina Kopylova & Tatyana Pertseva & Dmitri Zherbin (Helsinki), P.I. Filimonov (Tallinn), Igor Belov & Pavel Nastin & Natalya Antonova & Yevgeni Palamarchuk & Irina Maksimova (Kaliningrad), Igor Kotjuh (Tartu), Larisa Joonas (Kohtla-Järve), Diana Efendieva (Narva) and a few others. The authors were mostly born in the 1970s and 1980s.

I don't know how many of these names are familiar to you.

David McDuff said...

Thank you very much for posting these translations, Eric.

I removed the preformatting, as it doesn't seem to serve much purpose?

Anonymous said...

What a surprise! Thank you, Eric!