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Eestikeelsed artiklid



Björn Kowalski

Vilen of Viimsi

August Künnapu

Nathaniel Kahn

Harry Pye

Mehis Heinsaar

Lauri Sommer


Richard Gary Brautigan

Bogus America’s Warped Mirror

Richard Gary Brautigan (30. 01. 1935, Tacoma, Washington – 25. 10. 1984 Bolinas, California) is known more as a prose writer to Estonians. In Watermelon Sugar is a cult tale and The Abortion is loose reading on an otherwise serious topic. The last translation, the breakthrough novel Trout Fishing in America masterfully pokes fun at the thoughts of today’s tourists. However, behind the humor lives a nostalgic longing for pristine nature. A childhood spent in impoverished conditions, wandering, and bizarre provincial inhabitants gave Richard a good imagination. It’s no wonder that he started out as a poet. His first creative fragment was suprisingly enough a christian Christmas poem Light that was published in 1952.

Drawings: August Künnapu

In 1956, the young conflictual loner moved away from home in a Beat enthusiasm to San Francisco to freak as a writer and work casual jobs. During the time of the Flower Children he shared his poems right on the street and read them at psychodelic rock concerts. His first collections were underground publications with small print runs and strange designs. The fame that bit with „Trout Fishing in America” came later. It was precisely the amusing satire of the period’s banality and heartfelt tone that made him a counterculture hero.

He said joking that he started writing poety hoping „to learn how to write a sentence, because I really wanted to write novels (…) I used poetry as a lover, but I never made her my old lady.” Then he got the sentence moving and the focus shifted to prose. A substantial gap in the publishing of Brautigan’s poetry collections widened at the beginning of the 1960s. However in 1966, “ I started going out with poetry again, but this time I knew how to write a sentence, so everything was different and poetry became my old lady.” A flowing sentence melody, intense wording and unique images rocked also in Brautigan’s best prose.

There were many sources for Richard’s poetry. First of all short forms and Zen-like moments of perception: “I liked the way they used language, concentrating emotion, detail and image until they arrived at a form of dew-like steel.” A part of Brautigan’s texts carry the poetics of small things, having an affinity with the successive free-form tanka of Ishikawa Takuboku and Akiko Yosano, in which this riddle-like flash is preserved next to the everyday. He was interested in the native poetry of the ecstatic outsider Emily Dickinson and plain-spoken William Carlos Williams. In this space, his poetry, in an eclectic and playful fashion, continued to sway to and fro. Ten collections have been published. Part of his work that was printed in the underground and regular press, given away as presents, and after his death found in his home is still not collected. In addition, supposedly there is a manuscript of a novel called American Hotels. One friend let slip that a lot of what had happened around Brautigan was somehow poetically Brautigan-like, with summits and abysses occurring. The more expressive part of both of them went into his creative work. His poetry is a celebration of transience. One can find half-hidden images of happy, silly, painful, unexpected and very human moments. Like Andres Vanapa and Aleksander Suuman, each thing that has happened to him or has passed through his mind can become an ingredient for his texts. He managed to change very bizarre connections into something believable – he plays with our sense of reality and expands probability. Someone once said, that Brautigan wrote things that “Mark Twain might have written had he wandered into a field of ripe cannabis,” and that reading him was a “natural high.” While reading, a truly pleasant, relaxed feeling arises. What is also presented is an inner-recognition and a-haa! feeling, as well as fits of laughter. For many cloud-puffing hippies those books were “trip toys.” At the same time Brautigan couldn’t stand the drug thing, which left alcohol, babes and pistols as his choice. His imagination was so energetic it didn’t need any chemical stimulation.

As an artist of life and a self-learner he couldn’t stand academic poetry. His texts were airily written without philosophizing, and occasionally a little hazy. One twisted reader sent the collection Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork back with a piece of crap pressed between its pages. Such a genuine reaction never arises without a reason. Brautigan also has a lot of thoughtfulness, power of generalization and empathy hidden among the strong threads of the absurd. And his irony with which he liked to “let the air out of” high poetry, is a little romantic. Like many others, when he was young, he wrote poems to girls. A series of love affairs with an undertone of excitement became his fate. Perhaps one of them was also a reasons of his suicide.

Richard remained a characteristic troubadour, who put the pictures of his muses on the covers of his books and dedicated funny odes to them. In his affectionate poems there is an aesthetic taste, everydayness, maliciousness and humor in a very natural connection. Ingvar Luhaäär who was the first to officially translate Richard’s poems into Estonian (Looming, issue 8/1985) probably liked him as a poet of sexual freedom.
Brautigan has been the favorite author of people with sharp sense humor and tragedy at the same time. The poem “Chinese checkers” was sung by the band Võikõllane. Once I read a manuscript where an enthusiast named Paul had translated the novel The Hawkline Monster and some of the stories from Revenge of the Lawn (editors and publishers, where are you?). Some matters in Brautigan’s work ripened over the years. For example, a poem published as a child about collecting beer bottles is explained only in his last novel So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away (1982). Besides recording the hippie period’s sense of life, his observations have a more universal nuance. For a person, a state of being is a single plateau regardless of external signs. It doesn’t matter whether you have long or short hair, everyone is confronted with similar questions. I like Brautigan because of his Ervin Abel-like shifts and clear-sightedness, catchy brevity and good-natured talent for telling stories. It’s great to see how punily everyday reality crumbles in his hands. And also because he taught me once what this hippiness and counterculture is, in a better sense of the word, offering safety in a considerate and thought-twisting way.

The unknown dreamer

I believe
(and soon)
we should erect
a fragile monument
for the Unknown Dreamer
he was more important
than soldiers.

A Moth in Tucson, Arizona

A friend calls me on the telephone
from Tucson, Arizona. He’s unhappy.
He wants to talk to somebody
in San Francisco.
We talk for a while. He mentions
there’s a moth in the room.
“It’s solemn,” he says.

Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork

Loading mercury with a pitchfork
your truck is almost full. The neighbors
take a certain pride in you. They
stand around watching.

The Shenevertakesherwatchoff Poem

For Marcia

Because you always have a clock
strapped to your body, it’s natural
that I should think of you as the
correct time:
with your long blonde hair at 8:03,
and your pulse-lightning breasts at
11:17, and your rose-meow smile at 5:30,
I know I’m right.

The Sister Cities of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hiroshima, Japan

It was snowing hard when we drove
into Los Alamos. There was a clinical feeling
to the town as if every man, woman and child
were a doctor. We shopped at the Safeway
and got a bag of groceries. A toddler
looked like a brain surgeon. He carefully
watched us shop at the exact place where he would
make his first incision.

Passing to Where?

Sometimes I take out my passport,
look at the photograph of myself
(not very good, etc.)
just to see if I exist


Lauri Sommer

Lauri Sommer (1973) is a musician and writer. He lives in Tartu and the village of Räestu. His translation of Richard Brautigan’s poetry collection “Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork” will come out in January 2007. See also www.ounaviks.ee/kago

Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) was an American writer. He is the author of 11 novels, 10 poetry collections and a collection of stories. See also www.brautigan.net/poetry.html for his poetry.