The Ideal Husband

Ideaalne abikaasa

The Ideal Husband (Poetry, Estonian)
Published by Jumalikud Ilmutused, 2015, pp. 108

Jürgen Rooste (b 1979) is one of Estonia’s “wildest” current writers, right behind Valdur Mikita. He is the country’s loudest, sincerest, and most exuberant and (social-)critical contemporary poet. Rooste has written 15 poetry collections and several children’s books, has co-authored literary textbooks, has published a wealth of reviews of literature and cultural events, and has worked as an editor. He has feverishly organised poetry readings, festivals, and events to make Estonian literature better known both at home and abroad. Rooste often writes opinion pieces, sometimes in poetic form. He is a remarkable performer, and several of his poems were written with live presentation in mind. He frequently takes the stage with musicians, and is just as convincing with a big jazz band as he is with solo accompaniment: his texts may be bluesy or meant to be rapped. In short, Jürgen Rooste is an extremely productive and wide-ranging author.

The Ideal Husband is composed of an impressive spectrum of topics, but love poems form its core. Readers met the poet’s sweetheart Sveta in his 2014 collection Suur sume, suur tume (Great Dusk, Great Dark), which hints at the delicacy and fragility of their initial meeting and the process of falling in love. In The Ideal Husband, Rooste declares frankly: “the centre of this world is / you”. He literally idolises his girlfriend: in the cycle “Jürgen’s Gospel”, the poet becomes a mere predecessor of his beloved, a “baptiser and healer”, whose task is to proclaim and “cast verses / about the girl of light”. His love is so great, so encompassing and overwhelming that he starts to suspect “that maybe this love // has even replaced my art my poetry / that which has been most important / to me”.

But that doesn’t quite seem to be the case. Rooste is still (as in his best books) both sincere and sarcastic, serious and playful. He can exclaim that “all Estonian culture’s just / Juhan Liiv’s coat / -- / threadbare and worn / a jacket that’s of no use / at all”; or he can prowl the city animal-like and bare his teeth: “this animal’s called / the social poet / and he smells // the proper bourgeois’ fear”. One of Rooste’s most important tools is his sustaining of his childlike nature, his occasional downright naiveness, which gives the texts a light and playful tone and prevents the poems from turning bitter. The Ideal Husband additionally contains good old Bukowski-like poesy: almost sleeping with his ex-wife (“almost”, because his daughter walks in on them), making pancakes in a bachelor pad and turning the kitchen into a war-zone, boozing with his sweetheart’s father, which allows language barriers to be overcome, etc. The images are humorous, things are described... just the way they are at a particular moment. Worthy of special note is the author’s use of language, which is completely free and fluid. Rooste’s language has evolved in its own space, where he plays with words, but it is all entirely natural and compelling.

Has the former “ordinary Estonian idiot” (the title of Rooste’s 2008 poetry collection, Tavaline eesti idioot) finally grown into an “ideal husband”? Apparently not; at least the poet sees himself as being anything but ideal. And can any marriage, any life ever be ideal? What is crucial is the effort: the desire to be a smidgen better. You just need to love as well as you can, however it turns out, and that love will cast a little ray of light into dreary everyday life.

By Carolina Pihelgas

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