Jaan Kaplinski
(Estonia, 1949)   
Jaan Kaplinski

Jaan Kaplinski was born in the Estonian university city of Tartu in 1941. His mother was a dancer and later a translator; his father lectured in Polish at the university. After completing his studies in French and linguistics, Kaplinski worked at the university in Tartu, in the botanical gardens in Tallinn and as a freelance writer. In the years 1992–95, he was a member of the Estonian parliament, and in 1997 guest lecturer in Tampere in Finland and Writer in Residence in Wales. Since then he has lived as a freelance writer on a farm in Southern Estonia.

Kaplinski made his debut in 1965, and now has roughly 40 books to his credit. He writes poetry and essays, but also prose, plays and children’s literature. His poems seldom adhere to a strict form, the emphasis being on philosophical and contemplative elements. Often they even look like pieces of prose that have been randomly chopped up in order to set the reader thinking. For that is practically always the intention of the erudite poet, who has been greatly interested in East-Asian poetry (even having given himself a Chinese pseudonym in one collection): the liberation from old ways of thinking, the transcending of boundaries – even more: the doing away with boundaries. He strives for a universal harmony, for the boundary between man and nature is after all also an artificial one. Kaplinski finds this universal harmony in no single religion, because here too boundaries get in the way, such as the boundary between god and man. If Kaplinski feels anything for a religion at all, it must be a little one without a god.
Kaplinski also writes poems in English, Finnish and Russian. His work has been relatively frequently translated – in English alone there are six collections as well as one in Dutch (De bronmeester van Veskimõisa. Selection and translation from the Estonian by Külli Prosa. Leiden: Uitgeverij Plantage 1993).

© Cornelius Hasselblatt

Jaan Kaplinski took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2006. This text was written on that occasion.


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