Voices (Song Festival, Tallinn, Estonia)

 

Estonian World Kaja Weeks Voices Poem

A version of the poem “Voices” was first published by the online journal Estonian World.
http://estonianworld.com/culture/kaja-weeks-estonian-singing-voices-in-a-poem/

Voices (Song Festival, Tallinn, Estonia)

Song-Mother’s voices,
sounds of ancestors once slipped from tongue to air—
ribbon-like, still unfurling.

On the edge of the sea
a silver shell holds thousands, singers who face
thousands more on a grassy gentle rise. All inhale.

Though the hour nears midnight
sun skims waters of the Baltic Sea,
flames in the tower-torch leap high.

The singing will not stop,
Lee—  lee— lo, the sounds form Leelo!
Each ancient syllable earned with sweat and love.

A conductor, peering from within a laurel wreath
clasps his chest, lowers his head,
bows to the choir who has honored song.

The watchers become the singers,
the standing levitate,
the air is alive.

Swirling round, melodies rustle, loosen hair,
saying: we are a living sound—sing us speak us hear us.
Song-Mother’s voices—Hääli imedänne!

 


* Hääli imedänne – Means “magical voices” in old Estonian
* Leelo – The old Estonian word meaning “song,” and the title of an actual song


Author’s Note: Voices 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.

 


Songs from my ancestral heritage have been a central part of my life. As a young child I was mesmerized by very old runic songs, called regilaulud—including shepherd’s calls (helletused). These came to me by way of the songstress Ellen Parve Valdsaar, an Estonian refugee whose magical interpretations left a lasting impression upon me. I also heard and sang much choral music, mostly in the a cappella tradition that allows voices to meld within wonderful, enlivening resonance. The poem, Voices, celebrates the height of such a continued tradition, the Estonian Song Festival, first begun in 1869. It is now held in Tallinn every five years and is designated a UNESCO “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Click here to hear a refrain from the song, “Leelo” (the old word for “song”) as sung at the 2014 Estonian Song Festival in Tallinn. (In “Leelo” composed by Mart Saar with text from traditional folkverse, the singers plead, “What are these reins, these ropes that bind us?” The antidote, they answer, is “Song! Song! Song!”)

Even as the child of Estonian refugees to America, I understood the transcendent qualities of this music rooted in antiquity. In the 1970’s, as a college music student, I created a small vocal ensemble named Kannel (Zither) which performed mostly traditional Estonian music. Today, I sing with the Baltimore-Washington Estonian Singers (BWES), including in our performance for the capital area’s 100th Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia.

Kaja ja Iira EV100

Ira Reiman and Kaja Weeks in traditional Estonian folk costumes, singing as members of BWES at Washington DC- Celebration of 100th Year of Republic of Estonia. February 2018
Kannel Kaja Parming Lektor 1977 NY
Kaja Parming delivering lecture about old Estonian folk music, New York, 1977.
Kannel 1977 NY
Ensemble Kannel performing in an evening of Lecture and Old Estonian Folk Songs. (Pictured in lower photo, left to right) Ursula Brady; Kaja Parming (Founder/Director); Talvi Laev; Tiia Papp; Angela Dupin; Kersti Tannberg. New York, 1977.
Kannel Toronto 1971

Kannel in Toronto, 1971 (Pictured from Left to Right) Tina Karm; Angela Dupin; Anneliis Elmend; Ursula Brady; Kaie Põhi; Kaja Parming (Founder/Director); Anne Pleer. 

Mouth Quill

Sugar House Review_Mouth Quill
A version of the poem “Mouth Quill” by Kaja Weeks was first published in the literary journal Sugar House Review, Fall/Winter 2017.

Mouth Quill*

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.