The composer Brigitte Doss-Johnson has used the text from my poem The Rise (from the collection Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots) to create an cappella choral composition. The old runic song that was an inspiration for the poem is masterfully woven into an SATB setting. Fragments of the old runic song, Uni Tule Lapse Silma Peale (Sleep, Come on the Child’s Eye), survived as early memories of my mother’s lullaby singing, which she would have learned from her own mother, born on the coast of Estonia in the 19th century. The Rise, along with the song Midsummer (from the poem Midsummer Birches) will be performed by a virtual choir.
An exciting new creative project has grown from from my collection Mouthquill—Poems with Ancestral Roots. Brigitte Doss-Johnson, composer and choral conductor, has set two poems to music. The compositions will be performed by a virtual choir.
I am honored that Mouth Quill, the title poem from my chapbook, Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots, has been nominated by The Poetry Box for a Pushcart Prize, an American literary prize.
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.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 933 9288 2128
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.
My chapbook of poetry is being published by The Poetry Box and is slated for release in September 2020! The lines below the photo are from the first poem, Ancestral Journey—Beneath Ice Sheets, which begins an imaginary exploration leading to the shores of Estonia. This poem is part of a trilogy, three poems that form the start, middle and end of the collection; the other two being Ancestral Journey—The Milky Way and Ancestral Journey—Helix.
I chose the satellite photo above to share this announcement as it so beautifully illustrates, by way of a (modern) snow line, the approximate glacier lines from 10,000 years ago! You can see Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and even the small island of Saaremaa in this aerial image. Long ago, glacial ice covered all. When the melting began, I imagine the long journey of our Finnic ancestors, leaving the Urals:
Some will be left in river-bends,
some follow the reindeer north.
Some will look heavenward at traces of bird-flight,
some walk a milky star-path westward.
The term Mouth Quill (collection title and title of an individual poem) is found in runo verse (regilaul)—the word translates to suudesulg and refers to “a singer’s magical tool.” Some of the 21 poems are inspired by themes found in ancient runo verses (with the original runo verses listed in Notes), others by Estonian music, language and historic events. My writing weaves those world views into a life born and lived in America, with deep ancestral roots.
Poet Deirdre Callanan describes Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots as “a dark crystal studded with light.”
At home my stroke-assaulted mother
you startle and confound me.
On my childhood bed
we eye each other.
Metallic ringing runs from your mouth.
Wailing not at gods
but from some crucible of the gods.
From those Northlands
winds blow low and rise, they ripen.
Your incantation pelts the room,
the color of blue sorrow.
One river, two rivers, three rivers, more.
My voice fails. I fear to go there
and utter nothing.
I offer recorded purity,
nuns singing 9th century Christian chant:
Gloria, laus, et honor tibi sit
Rex Christe, Redemptor.
Isn’t this your God?
No! You smack the sounding device
and, though words have eluded you for months,
deep-throated, you decree,
“This is false death!”
and renew your endless spell.
We are so far from singing together.
I don’t know how to join you:
my mouth quill has stilled.
Oh, Mesi Marja-memmekene, Honey Mama-berry,
Emakene hellekene, my Mother my dear.
Äiu, äiu, äiu, once you charmed me to slumber
on silken nets in this space of braided hair.
* Mouth quill – “Suude sulg,” is a singer’s magic tool, and is found in Estonian mythic lore and runic verses
The poem Mouth Quill by Kaja Weeks was reviewed on New Pages as part of its coverage of The Sugar House Review issue in which it appeared. Mouth Quill was cited as succeeding in being “concentrated language striving to be music,” and with the description, “Carefully placed alliteration, assonance, and other literary devices create a fascinating and aurally pleasing poem.”
Author’s Note: Mouth Quill is a poem from a chapbook manuscript (in progress) in which writings reflect both the trauma and beauty of Estonian culture and history as it rooted in my personal journey and identity.
I was uniquely inspired reading the novel Quarry by M. A. Fuller. Not only did its psychological character portraits pull deeply, but there were wonderful Finno-Ugric connections here — hers: having Finnish/Sami history and identity central to the plot; mine: being tied to Estonian culture, who are kinfolk to Finns. I was moved to read along with my copy of the ancient Finnish verses known as Kalevala (similar to the Estonian Kalevipoeg)! And all of her story unfolds, path by path, with its impact upon those in North America which made it personally even more relevant. It is a magnificent book, as you can read below and on reviews by Kirkus and others online.
Here is my brief review as it appeared on Amazon on July 15, 2017.
QUARRY: Mystical yet Deeply Grounded — Beautiful and Brilliant
QUARRY is is a truly captivating novel by Meredith Ann Fuller that has as its main character a girl/young woman who is psychologically haunted and creatively invested by immigrant legacies. Fuller draws vividly from the tumultuous history of North American Finns, their ancient cultural roots, the nightmarish lure of return of some to Karelia and subsequent betrayal by Stalin in the early twentieth century. All of this, with an added splash of Irish-American history, spills over into the life of Rose, who we meet as a traumatically-blinded child. With the help of a therapist, she recovers her sight, only to struggle mightily with what she must face internally.
Rose’s search for self and cohesion forces her to reach not only inward but back into inter-generational history. Fuller’s writing really shines here as she weaves in the spirits, spells, animals and magic that abound deep in Finnish, especially Sami, roots. As a reader familiar with the ancient Finnish epic, Kalevala, I found these connections authentic and mesmerizing. (The reviewer’s attached photo shows Fuller’s novel resting on an edition of Kalevala verses.)
As only a talented writer can do, Fuller leads us from Rose and her family’s journey to ones that hold broader truths, including the well of strength that can come from our roots even as we struggle with their impact. Furthermore, copious artistic illustrations throughout the book are so stunning they inspire like visual-poetic gems.
The author, illustrator (primarily Joan Anderson with others), and Mountain Water Press are to be commended for this sensitive, beautiful and brilliant book.
The Wedding of Salme*
By Kaja Weeks
* Adapted from Tähemõrsja (Starbride), an ancient Estonian runic song/verse
and composed in memory of my mother, Salme M.
On a field moist with morning fog,
by a craggy shepherd’s path it lay.
A little hen’s egg, left alone,
no nest, poor thing, just dew.
Walking there a widow spied it,
lifted it gently, clutched it closely
into her apron pocket she tucked
the tiny treasure, a chilly shell.
Then the egg she did warm,
three months, another and then a day.
The foundling was born, a child emerged,
a girl so sweet and full of grace.
Salme blossomed, into beauty
she grew. A maiden chaste who
many courted, wooed with gifts
and begged her to wed.
Not to the Sun with fifty horses,
Nor to the waxing-then-waning moon,
but to a celestial suitor, steady and bright,
son of the North Star, she did consent.
“Wed, Maid Salme, with Starry Youth,”
I did whisper, hidden in time.
“So airy and light and silver-voiced,
your daughter fine I can be.”
The tall wise oaks and dashing alders,
their trailing catkins, roots and branches,
all to your wedding who come, then
my uncles and aunties – my kin shall be.
So Salme, in silk, and Star, a-shimmering,
the Cross-Cane danced upon the green,
Thus betrothed, the chariot alit,
they ascended to dwell in the sky.
Now fearless and free, I may dance
across earth or foaming sea.
Mother, your shield casts from above,
so constant, so bright, ever on me.
Copyright © 2015 by Kaja Weeks
The Wedding of Salme was first published by Fickle Muses: Journal of Mythic Poetry and Fiction
About the Poem …
The Wedding of Salme is derived from one of the most ancient surviving Estonian myths, Starbride (Tähemõrsja) and recreated with my personal twist of longing by entering the imagined space –“I did whisper, hidden in time.” A characteristic of my writing often is that the past, even very distant past, fluidly interlaces the present or future.
There are many versions of this beautiful myth to be found in Estonian sources. While they all tell the same basic story, the verse expressions of the runic verses (regilaul) show rich regional variety and it was a thrill to research beyond my own basic knowledge when I began creating an interpretation in my own words. I loved knowing how ancient the origins were — over a thousand years or more — reciting the beautiful sounds aloud, and cherishing the early oral preservation that spoke of people’s hopes, wishes, and understanding of their world.
Estonian runic verses are highly stylized in meter and other literary qualities. Although it wasn’t possible to re-create all of that, I wanted to pay homage to some of the rhetorical characteristics, such as alliteration (the same sound at the beginning of words, e.g. “So Salme in silk and Star a-shimmering”); assonance (repeated vowel sounds, e.g. “moist with morning fog”); and parallelism (repeating ideas in a symmetrical way, e.g. “the tiny treasure, a chilly shell.”) all framed within a rhythmic, prosodic style.