Sven Kivisildnik

Sven Kivisildnik stands out as the most singular and exceptional figure in Estonian poetry. His approach to literature has been more daring and rude, but also more innovative than any other writing appearing in Estonia. Often working with no qualms about originating from existing material, Kivisildnik soon established himself as a literary outlaw, although this status is now slowly fading, but will surely remain a point of reference in every biographical sketch for many years to come.

The first important text published under the name of Kivisildnik (a pseudonym based on his real surname Sildnik) was Märg Viktor (Wet Viktor, 1989). Its point of departure was a short rhymed poem by Marie Under, the major poet of the nineteen-twenties and thirties, who continued writing poetry in exile after World War II. Kivisildnik extracted one single and central word from each line of Under’s poem, making it the opening unit of his own verse. This procedure was repeated 42 times, either by using all the keywords from Under’s poem, or by omitting some of them. The production of text, as the author has claimed, was unconscious: each new line was written on a single sheet, after the previous one had been forgotten. The book was illustrated with an electrocardiogram of Kivisildnik himself. (After the completion of the work, he suffered a heart attack and spent several weeks in a hospital.)
Born in 1963 in Rakvere, Kivisildnik has studied journalism at the University of Tartu, is working as a journalist and is a member of two important literary groups, the “Hirohall”, and the Estonian Kostabi-$ociety. He was one of those responsible for the revolutionary change in poetry in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, breaking the boundary between literature and real life, extending the concept of literature, experimenting with language, content and form. He has been interested in performance art, music, media and avant-garde theatre, and his poetry has been translated into several languages.
In 1996 Kivisildnik published a voluminous book of poetry, extending to over 800 pages and including most of his work to date: Nagu härjale punane kärbseseen (Like a Red Amanita to a Bull). This serialist aggregate comprises 14 long series of texts, the complete list resembling a sonnet; most of them constructed from existing material of literary origin (ancient songs, poems, short stories, novels). Such practice was unheard-of in Estonian poetry, and many readers rejected the book as nonsense or trash. However, this profoundly original book has attracted many friendly readers later on. One could also mention the long autobiographical poem Loomade peal katsetatud inimene (A Human Being Tested on Animals, 1997), offering a strangely reduced version of human subjectivity; the pornographic parody of religious dogmatics Nagu isane kass ümber isase pudru (Like a Tomcat Round a Plate of Male Porridge, 1996, in the web); and the short alternative version of the Estonian epic Kalevipoeg (2003), based on the oral tradition and presenting a series of funny sketches depicting the present-day Estonian mentality. Here Kivisildnik develops a more humorous approach, without giving up his fundamental radicalism. In Vägistatud jäämägi (A Raped Iceberg, 2006) the Titanic is made guilty of molesting an iceberg. In 2007 the annual poetry award of the Estonian Cultural Endowment was given to Kivisildnik for his collection of haiku, Sumo (2007).
Today Kivisildnik is also well known as a sharp political pamphleteer and literary critic, and is running the print-on-demand publishing house Jumalikud Ilmutused (Divine Revelations).

 

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