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Jaan Kaplinski: A Particular Sort of Ignorance

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Published in Poetry Ireland Review 106, edited by John F. Deane

Jaan Kaplinski. Selected Poems. Translated by Jaan Kaplinski with Sam Hamill, Hildi Hawkins and Fiona Sampson. Bloodaxe Books, 2011. £12 stg
It’s hard to think of a poet besides Jaan Kaplinski who could write lines like
In the morning I was presented to President Mitterand, in the evening I weeded out nettles under the currant bushes.
The lines remind us of the poet’s public life – he was a member of the post-Revolution Estonian parliament from 1992 to 1995, and is an active cultural commentator – but they also suggest where his priorities might lie. Meeting presidents is one thing but the real life is elsewhere. The nettles and currant bushes are not an escape but the proudly brandished crucial zone where poetry and the perceptive life are likely to flourish. A good deal of Kaplinski’s poetry opposes itself to the pieties and rhetoric of the public sphere; the poetry is, often, a careful deployment of silence, a recogni…