I felt very grateful to have been invited to share poetry from my collection Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots—at VEMU, Museum of Estonians Abroad celebration of Estonian Mother Language Day (Emakeelepäev).
This day is a national holiday in Estonia, and a beautiful way to preserve and cherish the Estonian language.
The virtual event included wonderful presenters. Janika Oras, Senior Folklore Scholar of The Estonian Literary Museum gave a fascinating overview of regilaulud, Estonia’s ancient oral song and verse tradition, and talked about how their influence—especially maternal qualities and the presence of multiple realities—permeated poetry in the Mouth Quill collection.
Kaja Telmet and Inga Eichenbaum, of Toronto, each recited a poem from the collection and Kaja Telmet talked about her emotional connection and understanding of the collection from the perspective of one whose family, like mine, were World War II refugees from Estonia.
Triinu Villukas and Madli Oras, two young Estonians and singers currently living in Vienna, Austria, led everyone in regilaulu singing, including the song which inspired content in my poem, Mouth Quill. Piret Noorhani, VEMU’s chief archivist put together a wonderful, rich program and moderated throughout.
You can read an English translation of my remarks here.
“Midsummer Birches,” a poem from my collection Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots went live on June 24, 2021 as a choral pieces composed by Brigitte Doss-Johnson and sung by the virtual choir, Laulusild. A traditional old Estonian tune and words were woven with newly composed music set to my poetry. One piece is a celebration of Estonian Jaaniöö (Midsummer’s Eve) and Jaanipäev (Midsummer’s Day).
The English language poem begins by invoking Estonian traditions, referencing age-old verses and songs about this most important holiday: Jaaniööbirch leaves bitter-sweeten the air. A young man’s beloved rides his silk-tufted horse. Kaasike, kaasike, the refrain sounds. Trot with pride, mane bedecked with bangles.
The second poem and song is “The Rise,” which includes a recollection of my mother’s lullaby, an old Estonian song (Uni Tule), which I recall hearing as a very young child in America and realized later would have been sung by my grandmother in Estonia, who I never met. This motif is woven into newly composed music of the poem text . . . sleep mists its way from coastal stones crosses a thousand miles, fall upon my eye.
Singers include individuals from North America, Japan, the Basque region of northern Spain, Malaysia, and Estonians from the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
The Poetry Box, publisher of my book, will host its monthly live Zoom Poetry Reading on Saturday, October 10, 2020, 4 PM Pacific, 7 PM Eastern. I look forward to joining readings of two other poets, Christopher Bogart and Joan Colby (read by Wendy Colby).
Please join me to hear Ancestral Journey—Beneath Ice Sheets, Old Tunes on Spruce, Seabrook Farms (1949), The Songstress and more.
The Poetry Box, a small independent publisher in Portland, Oregon, has done a beautiful job with my debut chapbook of poetry, ready now for pre-order here from my page on
their website. Please visit to see a description and early reviews.
. . . a haunting intertwining of world history and family history. ~ April Ossmann
The cover is a stunning photo of Estonian forest and sea by Michael Huang. I am so grateful for his gift to me for this collection.
The print edition is slated for September 30, 2020. At that point, you can also order the book from Amazon or from your favorite bookstores.
The term “mouth quill” (suude sulg) comes from ancient Estonian runic song and is seen as a singer’s magical tool. In a lovely verse known as The Village Tells Me, the singer says she has left home enchanting charms—her mouth quill and her tongue click—(keeleklõks). She bids her brothers to ride home with silver beaded horses to bring them to her so she can sing like birds.
When I was a young student, just starting college, I traveled to Finland to study and listen to rich Estonian field recordings of such music. In these last years, I feel so lucky to have been able to access notated music and even listen to oral history recordings on amazing online runic songs databases in Estonia. As I explored an arc of identity, many of these old songs inspired imagery and language in my poems, as did nature and historic events, both distant and more recent.