What is surrealism? If it is a historical movement restricted to a small circle of French poets, who gathered around André Breton in the nineteen-twenties, then there would be no more surrealists anywhere else in the world. But if surrealism is the name of an artistic sensibility quite independent from its material conditions, Andres Ehin would be a perfect example of a poet who had a surrealist imagination flowing in his veins. In his first book of poetry, Hunditamm (Wolf's Oak, 1968) the direction was still somewhat undecided, but from 1971, with the publication of the fabulous Uks lagendikus (Door on an Opening), Ehin established himself as the foremost imaginary poet of his generation. This impression was confirmed with Luba linnukesel väljas jaurata (Let the Bird Babble Outside, 1977) and an effervescent book of fiction, Ajaviite peerud lähvad lausa lõkendama (Chips of Entertainment into Buoyant Flames, 1980), mixing dark humour with fantasy and inventing incredible gossip. He was, without a doubt, a humorous poet.

Unlike the French surrealists, Ehin has rarely explained his own poetic technique. However, in 1966 he published an early manifesto, Kujund ja meeled (Image and the Senses), affirming his preference for a certain “eidetic sensibility” as a fundamental principle of artistic creation. “Eidetic phenomenality does not coincide with memory. On the contrary, it brings sensual activity even further. Let us take an example: the artist sees a big rock covered with moss. He will be sensually so enchanted that after passing the rock he will continue seeing the rock, and he does not even notice the bushes and trees entering his field of vision in reality.” Ehin expresses deep conviction that the eidetic phenomenality might reproduce itself when the stimulus has long since disappeared, thus becoming the source of creativity.

Born in 1940 in Tallinn, Ehin graduated from the University of Tartu in Finno-Ugric Studies, worked as a teacher in a Selkup school in Yamalia, Siberia, was a cultural journalist and editor of an encyclopedia, and since 1974 a professional freelance writer and translator. He was the husband of the poetess Ly Seppel, and the father of the poetess Kristiina Ehin. Ehin was an effective performer of his poetry and travelled a lot, reading to many audiences. Andres Ehin passed away in December, 2011.

In 2000 Andres Ehin gathered most of his production into a volume Alateadvus on alatasa purjus (The Subconscious Is Constantly Drunk), encompassing about 550 poems over four decades. In a brief afterword to the book that appeared close to the author’s 60th birthday and André Breton’s 100th anniversary he states: “I do not consider myself a formalist. In poetic language I express those moods and states of mind that cannot be expressed otherwise. If the play turns into magic, it won’t be a play any more. I believe in sudden ideas, effects and enlightenment. I believe in inspiration.” For this collection, Ehin was given the highest literary award of 2000, the National Cultural Award.

Apart from writing poetry, Ehin has also been an active translator - his interests have ranged from Russian romanticism to Korean or Georgian modernism, from the Chukchi shaman-tales to the Arabian Nights, and from Sufi mysticism to Jungian psychoanalysis. He had no favourite language for translation, having translated from English, Russian, Finnish, German, French and Turkish.

Ehin has also published two semi-historical novels, Seljatas sada meest (She Floored A Hundred Men, 1998), in letters about two Estonian woman wrestlers, and Rummu Jüri mälestused (The Memoirs of Rummu Jüri, 1996) about a famous horse thief from the 19th century, with the later reputation of a local Robin Hood. The last one was made into a hugely popular film. In 2010 the collection of his best of fifty years, from the period 1959–2009, appeared, entitled Igavik vannitoas (Eternity in the Bathroom). Kuitund (The If Hour, 2010) is trilingual (Estonian, English, Japanese) as well as the haiku collection Sitikas suudleb kuud (A Chafer Kisses the Moon, 2008).

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