HARRY PYE’s POSTCARD FROM LONDON
NIGHT ON EARTH
ENCOUNTERS WITH POWER
MY VIDEO COLLECTION
SEDIMENTS OF SPACES AND STORIES
INTERVIEW WITH ANDRES EHIN
Interwiew with Andres EHIN
Questions by: August Künnapu
What is the essence of poetry and what distinguishes it from other genres?
I would rather tackle the question of the essence of art (only after determining the essence of art can we define poetry). I have two favourite definitions of art – one very old and the other quite old. The very old definition comes from Thomas Aquinas who said: “Art is play and magic”. 500 years later, his disciple, a neo-Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain rephrased the postulate a bit - “Art is play that tenses into magic.” However, in today’s mobile world even Maritain is by no means a new theoretician – his name was famous in France about 50-60 years ago. Anyway, I don’t think the newer definitions are any better.
As for fiction, this is a play of words that tenses into word magic. Prose is a narrative or epic word play. In prose words acquire magic via the tensing intrigue that runs through the story. Modern theoreticians are fond of saying that prose is mostly narrative.
Poetry is lyrical word play, expressing sensual experience tensely and dynamically and trying in this way to involve the psyche – both the subconscious and the consciousness. Poetry (lyroepical and epic) does not exclude the narrative element but this is not primary.
Art, including poetry, becomes magic only when it separates or in some way stands out from the daily dullness, when it turns out to be an event. This is the first sphere of art. However, two more spheres are necessary (the theory of spheres belongs to Jean Giraudoux). The second sphere: an artwork should also reflect the great opposition and association between Eros (instinct for life, love, creation, building) and Thanatos (instinct for death, destruction, demolition) in a situation symptomatic of the given time. In short: it should depict love and death at this or another moment of Timespace. The third sphere: an artwork should not lack topics on eternity or entirety, relations with the infinity.
An unpretentious reader, viewer or listener enjoys only the first sphere of an artwork – the event – and is happy to temporarily escape the boredom and dreariness of the daily existence. A more demanding art friend is also excited by the drama of life and death instincts. An even more refined adept notices the manifestations of eternity, entirety and infinity.
When a work of art possesses all three spheres, it is excellent art (poetry, prose, sculpture, play, film, architectural solution) that has all the conditions of becoming magic. (Magic and mysticism are opposites. Mysticism empties the world. Magic fills it with new things and relations.) When a work of art has the three spheres but even the most skilled analytics are unable to distinguish between them, because they are intertwined and mixed in many ways, we are dealing with a work of genius.
What topics are easiest to convey in poetry?
The alternation of seasons, love and death have been the main subjects of poetry through millennia. There are obviously many other topics that poetry can depict just as well, but they have been less practiced, therefore it is impossible to claim anything for certain about them.
You and tango.
Tango contains a lot of love, but also fear about the destruction or ending of love. Tango blends romanticism, drama and nostalgia.
Which part of the world has the most interesting poets today?
Hard to say. Several of my own favourites – Mexican Octavio Paz or Argentine Jorge Luis Borges – died recently. I assume that the culture of poetry they represent will continue in Latin-America. I’m afraid I have not yet read the best South-Americans. I have met a number of excellent poets in Japan.
You have read your poetry in Cork, last year’s cultural capital of Europe, in Tallinn, Bucaramanga, Tashkent, Helsinki, Paekakariki, Hanover, Vilenica, Porirua, New York, Moscow, Stockholm, Struga, Galway, Vilnius, Medellin, Bad Nauheim, Edinburgh, Biskop Arnö, Curtea de Arges, Kuusankoski, Wellington, Riga, Tenri, Trieste, Käsmu, Maastricht, Tbilisi, Toronto, Madona and elsewhere. Would you describe a perfect poetry reading event.
I don’t believe any of these readings was perfect. Sometimes the hall has impossible acoustics – your voice seems to sink into the furniture, chairs and walls. Another time my performance does not really fit with the previous reader. Sometimes the fault is mine – I’ve caught cold or am jittery from too much coffee or cannot capture the general atmosphere in order to choose poems or the manner of reading accordingly. The list is longer.
There have nevertheless been magical evenings when everything at least seemed perfect. A few times reading haikus. For example when I went to the Porirua cultural centre in New Zealand to read my longer poems – “Dusk in the snowfields” (“Hämarus lumeväljadel”), “fish livers lie scattered on the ground” (“Põrandale on loobitud kalade maksad”) etc. Suddenly I perceived that the weather, people’s mood and the acoustics of the hall require haikus. I quickly changed my plans and the result was marvellous. My Swedish colleague Karin Bellmann said that the listeners were spellbound. The audience was not very numerous but everybody had a keen perception of poetry.
I experienced something similar at Tartu Music School while reading haikus. People were wonderful and the musical interludes suited the poems beautifully.
I performed to huge audiences in the Latin-American city Medellin, the former drug capital of Colombia, and at the Struga festival in Macedonia. The final reading at Struga took place on a few dozen metres high river bridge. The listeners were under the bridge in boats or on both riverbanks, altogether 15,000 people. It was like a song festival. It was a great thrill to read on the bridge into enormous loudspeakers, although it was not very likely that the audience who was guzzling beer or coca-cola actually perceived the finer points in the poems. Huge masses and powerful effects cannot really make a poetry event perfect.
What are the charms of your hometown Rapla?
There is the Raikküla Pakamägi Hill nearby where the ancient Estonian county elders had their meetings in the 12-13th centuries to make important decisions. The bogs and marshes now have proper pathways for walking where I have taken fellow poets, let alone my family. The small town doesn’t really have very much to offer by way of sightseeing, but it is comfortable and cosy nevertheless.
In your younger years you lived for awhile in north-western Siberia among the Selkup (Ostyak-Samoyed) people. What did you learn from that ancient nation?
I learned that a sense of art can be universal. Every hunter must also be a composer. He must have his Own Song – onäk kojmõ. He sings this song when he harnesses his elks and sets off for a hunt and when he returns. Each time he improvises new words to his tune, describing what he just achieved, saw or felt. Every woman can embroider national ornaments on fur garments. I understood more clearly there that creative self-fulfilment is important to every person and every society. At the same time the Selkups are a dying breed, in the direct sense of the word. Tuberculosis, alcohol and Russian colonialism have done their damage.
Please write a poem about the present moment.
The day is nightblind.
Only a raindrop glows
On the dark windowglass.
|deep, below ground, breathe
|buried in dirt
|if you dust one clean
|her cornflower plumage
|will luminously shine
|such birds are
|moose beetle swallows
|with these birds
|estonians play at being cherokees
|cherokees play at being estonians
|but these birds will allow
|only the indigenous
|to pluck their feathers so blue
|we estonians and cherokees hail
|from the land of tricoloured dogs
|and underground birds
but where are we headed
A tram with frosted windows, on its metal bench
A man left behind his warm, moist heart
And stepped off at Juurdeveo.
In place of blood it now pumped
Fetid air of a city tram, laced with microbes of flu.
The tram, driven by a deep-frozen bunch of grapes
Was reaching Tondi
Another tram came from the opposite direction
Driven by a winefly.
The man without a heart arrived at work
Swinging his briefcase,
And devoured his secretary.
I am a man with six eyes
dreaming three dreams at once
each more heartfelt than the next
behind a shop in vommorski
russians guzzled beer
that in Estonia even
the dogs were blue black and white
land of the tri-coloured dogs,
The others nodded in agreement.
I am Andres Ehin. In my boyhood I wanted to become a geographer or a paleontologe, but really I became a poet. At Soviet time I swam all the time against the stream. Not anymore, but nevertheless I am not a mainstreamer.