It is easy to say of Doris Kareva that she secures her place like a shining pearl in the strong tradition of Estonian women’s poetry. However, that would be to say that Doris Kareva is simply a very good poet; that she is a master who knows how to deal with words and how to be dealt words, one of the most beloved poetesses in Estonia, would be closer to the truth.

Doris Kareva was born in 1958 in Tallinn and studied English language and literature at the University of Tartu. Working as the literary editor, she was for sixteen years the Secretary-General of the Estonian National Commission for UNESCO.

The most striking feature of Kareva’s poetry is its strict adherence to form; her wording is not so much economical as minimal. Kareva’s method seems to be to use as few words as possible, astonishingly often the message comes across clearly and at the same time with multiple meanings. On the other hand, the multiplicity of meanings can generate the opposite of clarity: a form of hinting which at its most illuminating becomes utterly oracle-like. Kareva’s language can be compared to that early morning moment when the sun has not yet torn the veil of mist into nothingness but still gives the mist a golden sheen. Kareva’s sense of language is unrivalled and unlimited.

But Kareva’s kind of poetry does not find expression only on a stylistic level. Scarcity of words is accompanied by depth of message. At a time when Estonian poetry is dominated by doggerel, by searching for and finding different meanings in the social sphere, by actuality and social awareness, Kareva’s metaphysical sensitivity and unbearable lightness of ontology always strike a fresh and polemical note. Kareva could be criticised for all too often sacrificing the message on the enchanting altar of beauty. Nevertheless, there is at present no other Estonian poet the moral charge of whose message can be sensed so physically.

Utterance on the border of silence has made Kareva speak more and more seldom. She has published fourteen collections of poetry and one collection of essays. The first half of her poetry, from the debut collection Päevapildid (Photographs, 1978) up to the collection Vari ja viiv (Shadow and Instant, 1986), constitutes five collections over a period of nine years. Between her collected poems Armuaeg (Time of Grace, 1991), which also includes new texts, and her collection Mandragora (Mandrake, 2002) four collections appeared over a period of twelve years, with a gap of five years between Mandragora and its predecessor Hingring (Soul Circle, 1997). In 2008 Deka appeared, summarizing a selection of new and already published poems from the period 1975–2007.

She has been a mentor for young poets, and has translated – with passion – kindred spirits of hers, Anna Akhmatova, Emily Dickinson, Joseph Brodsky, Kahlil Gibran, Kabir, W. H. Auden, Samuel Beckett, Shakespeare, and Irish contemporary poetry. Her own poetry has been translated into many languages, for example the full collection Shape of Time (Aja kuju) published in the UK in 2010 (in Estonian in 2005). As a literary stipendiate, Kareva has worked in Sweden, Greece, United States, Flanders, Italy and Ireland, and presented her works in many countries.
Her poetry has been staged and many times set to music.


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