The poet and writer Kauksi Ülle is the central figure of the South Estonian regional movement. She has been equally active as a poet and as a promoter of her mother-tongue, and probably the most well-known author in the Võru dialect (Võro) of southern Estonia: her use of it seems to be an attempt to create a lingua franca of this region´s different language uses. Kauksi Ülle has published several books of poetry, novels, short stories, plays, film scenarios and a primer of the Võro language for local schools, (ABC kiräoppus ja lugõmik algkooli latsilõ, 1998), and has also written for children.

Kauksi Ülle was born in 1962 in Võru and grew up in Võrumaa. Studying journalism at the University of Tartu, she made her debut in 1987 with a collection Kesk umma mäke (On Top of a Hill of One’s Own). It was already recognized as an eminent digression from the regular path of “regional poetry”: lacking the soft romanticism of the countryside and using forthright expressions with no hesitation. Traditional authority was represented by the figure of the “vanaimä“, the Grandmother, giving necessary prescriptions to a young girl on to lead her own life.

Kauksi Ülle belonged to two important literary groups, the “Hirohall”, and the Estonian Kostabi-$ociety, two organizations connected with the birth of the term “ethnofuturism”. She is often mentioned as the mother of the ethnofuturist movement, uniting two things in this word: ethnos (ancient Finno-Ugric culture) and the future.

Then followed a long series of ballads, a kind of core of her poetry: Hanõ vai luigõ (Geese or Swans), Agu ni Eha (Morn and Eve, bilingual with English text), Kultanaanõ (The Golden Woman, bilingual with Finnish text) and Nõsõq rõõmu mõrsija (Rises the Bride of Joy). The ballads of Kauksi Ülle do not try to emulate the French ballad tradition, although they are usually based on old songs or fairy tales and are written in a short, ascetic verse, and tend to be syllabic. The tonal variety ranges from comic realism to tragic allusiveness, the solution of the story often remains open-ended. In her book Käänüpäiv (Solstice, 2003) Kauksi Ülle returned to more intimate personal experiences, yet she continues to affirm the cosmological values dear to her. The conceptual axis of her poetic discourse is her immaimmamaa, (mother’s mother’s land) – evidently Kauksi Ülle’s sense of heritage is far from being patriotic.

In her two novels, Paat (The Boat, 1998) and Uibu (The Apple Tree, 2003), Kauksi Ülle focuses on a woman’s life, sexuality and social difficulties. The Boat covers more than forty years of Estonian history in 150 pages, beginning with the harsh times of Stalinism and ending with the Estonian Republic. The central character, Ainu, has a visionary power, but the archaic community is disintegrating and does not need her any more. The Apple Tree is an obviously autobiographic narrative describing urban experience, akin to the subjects of her short stories.

Her play Taarka (2004) in Setu dialect about a Setu singer, Hilana Taarka, was first staged for two seasons, then made into a film.
Kauksi Ülle has worked for the Finno-Ugric Peoples Information Centre, and as a manager of the Centre of the Kindred Peoples in Tartu. She has organized conferences, seminars and meetings in Estonia and abroad, making strong efforts to establish contacts between the Uralic-speaking ethnic groups. She is living in South-East Estonia, in Obinitsa, Setumaa.


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