Toomas Liiv. Luuletused 1968-2002.
WHICH IS BETTER--to be a literary critic who writes poetry, or a poet who writes literary criticism? In the case of Toomas Liiv (b. 1946), who has in recent years irritated Estonian literary critics with his adventurous essays and attempts to rehabilitate socialist realism, the latter is preferable. Although he is now a prolific essayist and critic, he came into literature as a poet, having published his first collection of poetry in 1971. Since that time, he has published only four collections, the latest of which, under the foreign title Achtung, came out in 2000. All these collections, however--the fruits of which have now been gathered into a volume of collected poems, Luuletused 1968-2002 (Poems 1968-2002)--have been uniquely remarkable and refreshing. Achtung stood out also for the fact that the author had added a review, written by himself, which has also been included in the voluminous present collection that draws together all of Lily's poems. Such a trick makes us react to the review, although seemingly a metatext, as an ambivalent poem, or at least to approach it with caution.
Liiv's poetry is the educated poetry of a literary scientist who embodies a rebellion against the norms, manifested not so much in ignoring these norms as in the conscious consideration and subsequent avoidance of them. A vivid and already anthologized example of such method is the poem "154 Syllables of Poetry," which gives the impression of a sonnet, and has been printed as one, but which actually is a straddled description of a common marital disagreement. Enjambment is, in fact, Liiv's main method. While reading his poems, this gives a sudden effect of the "aesthetics of stopping," and it is equally used on the levels of syntax, syllable, and phoneme. Graphically, it results in poems in the form of a regular rectangle. Liiv has confessed that above all he enjoys the transforming of metric texts into prose and that writing poetry is, for him, mostly the creating of specific writing, pure ecriture.
About what, why, and from which standpoint does Toomas Liiv write? In his earlier, traditional free-verse poems, we can sense the tinge of the post-hippie era, a desire for freedom and inverted pacifism (the poem "To the Swan Who Killed a Tank" pities a ruined machine of war cowering on a hill, which had been molested by a swan), as well as the young man's romantic discovering of the world, complemented with almost surrealist images of reality. Naturally, there are also love scenes and motifs of nature. This poetry of earlier years stops with the shattering of youthful illusions and myths. Since Liiv, as a literary researcher, conceives literary history also as a series of myths and misconceptions, in his later poetry he cultivates the shattering of myths similar to the avoiding of fixed forms. His newer "rectangles of poetry" are often feuilletonistic meditations on political or cultural topics, full of unexpected images. Secondary inspiration prevails over nature and immediate impressions and creates collisions that reach over time, such as in one of his latest poems about the war in Iraq, where a security officer of the previous Soviet Union kicks a sergeant of the U.S. Army into a gutter in Baghdad. In his self-review, Liiv declares that his poetry is a trick and parody. Still, such a claim cannot be accepted as the single truth of his poetry. Through playful irony and self-irony, Liiv also discusses social and global problems, the seriousness of which can best be overcome with the help of the poetry of paradoxes.
University of Tartu