Kaja Weeks’ poetry book . . . each one of her poems in that book is like a pearl, words bequeathed by refugees’ ancestors, and runic singing in the midst of English. For example the poem Garden and Thicket: We always spoke pre-war Estonian, though I emerged displaced in America. How kastetilgad-dewdrops flowed from your tongue, consonants curbed with breath . . . Kaja’s poetry goes deep into the subconscious and into the deepest part of the Estonian land, its peoples’ lullabies, sea depths and crowns of trees and begins to birth something new and unique. (Translated from Estonian by KW)
~ Imbi Paju, Film Director, Author (Memories Denied), Journalist
Mouth Quill is an outpouring of loss and recovery in the diasporic aftermath of a small nation’s tragedy and in the parallel tragedies of the author’s personal life. In powerful language redolent of the earthy dampness of coastal Estonia, Kaja Weeks brings forth memories that are at once broadly communal and intimately personal. Weeks’s corporeal and spiritual landscapes are numinous with the murmurings of the lost culture for which she has become a vessel. Her fusion of her family’s ancient, native tongue with the language of their adopted country underscores the liminal space in which their lives became suspended, and where they struggled, never quite successfully, to escape the wrenching brutality of Europe’s wars. Working in the borderlands of collective and private memory, Weeks displays her special gift for rendering the obscure landscapes of the heart in the narratives of a history that is similarly obscure to most outside of the Baltic community. Written lovingly with talent and soul, this little book that deserves to be read again and again.
~ Ralph Merzbach, reader review, The Poetry Box
I had the privilege to read many of these poems as Kaja Weeks was writing and revising them, and am thrilled to experience the collection—amazingly even greater than the sum of its parts. They contain semi-transparent layers of history and experience, language and music, giving the reader glimpses of an ancient culture, tragic invasions and occupations, and the enduring spirit that has been passed down through generations. The beautiful cover photograph by Michael Huang and the lyric poems themselves makes one long for a far-off Baltic country never seen.
~ Irene Smith Landsman (Author, The Good Poetic Mother—A Daughter’s Memoir), reader review, Amazon
Estonian-American poetess Kaja Weeks opens her lovely collection of poetry inspired by runic folk song with a poem tracing the migratory paths of the Finno-Ugric peoples that took them north to the lands of the Sami and south to Hungary and to the shores of the Baltic sea in Estonia. She frames the collection with concluding poems tracing her own journey back to her homeland to visit the country of her heritage and to sing at Laulupidu, the massive Estonian Song Festival event that is held every 5 years.
Throughout, there are quotes from runic folk songs in Estonian and references to Place Names which are translated with appropriate contexts and explanations in an ending glossary. The collection has a beautiful multi-colored forest scene photograph cover by Michael Huang.
I obviously can’t be unbiased about a collection that touches on so much of my own heritage. I do perceive the Mouth Quill poems as having a universal appeal in our present day era of refugee crises and of everyone’s search for their ancestral roots.
~ Alan Teder, reader review, Goodreads
Estonian runic verse inspires second-generation American poet Kaja Weeks’ vivid lyric poems, beginning with the title, which refers to “the singer’s magical tool,” and aptly describes this poet’s “quill” as well, delighting with wonderfully musical and evocative language: “Mother, I see no crossroad, no rock mossed/with softest threads, no signs of sacred space.”
We travel back in time to her parents’ escape from a “world gone mad with war once more,” to forging a diasporic post-WWII life, to her late mother’s hospitalization, “Wailing not at gods, but from some crucible of the gods,” to the poet’s more recent adventures visiting her parents’ homeland. Weeks’ consideration of identity through the lens of history is visceral and heartfelt; and the inclusion of Estonian language and culture deft; as is the haunting intertwining of world history and family history; and the subject of immigration remains topical as ever, in the home of the Statue of Liberty.
~ April Ossmann, author of Event Boundaries, advance review
Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots is a touching, gorgeously written collection—such patient, meditative themes, such lushly imagined writing. “The Dolomite Heel Print,” in particular, is a breathtaking exploration of history and life and identity . . . a stunning piece! The collection feels like a deep dive into identity—what binds us, what tears us apart, the ways that family can become home.
~ Hala Alyan, author of The Twenty-Ninth Year and Salt Houses, Winner of Dayton Literary Peace Prize, advance review
“I am a refugee’s child . . . I long for the resting sigh she was ripped from . . .” writes Kaja Weeks in her poem “Coastal Meadows” from her collection, Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots. Weeks’s exploration of her Estonian heritage in twenty-one riveting poems swept me with her back to “those runic tunes of lost silver beads,” then forward to her mother’s escape as one of “a motley crew of the dispossessed/stitched into a patchwork of America.” Rich with birds and melody, these pages sing, but her incredible “The Dolomite Heel Print” makes sure we understand not all songs are merry. Mouth Quill, a dark crystal studded with light, amazes.
~ Deirdre Callanan, author of Water~Dreaming and Fish Camp: North Jetty Tales, advance review
Equally inspired by the traumatic geo-political history of Estonia, her ancestral land, and by the alliterative musicality of the Estonian language, Kaja Weeks has woven the archetypal story of conquered nations and displaced persons into a series of lyric poems that resonate with historical importance and quiver with delicate beauty. In poem after poem, Weeks uncovers the mythic imprint of an ancient, unvanquished culture that has retained a strong sense of itself and nurtured its citizens through longstanding traditions of folk song and choral singing. Like the Estonian ancestors who came before her, Weeks sings both to celebrate and resist. “I can’t escape this terrible beauty,” she writes. “Blooming with songs/ and memory, I go.”
~ Kate Daniels, author of In the Months of My Son’s Recovery and The Niobe Poems, advance review
In Mouth Quill, a remarkably evocative collection of poems, Kaja Weeks celebrates Finno-Ugric traditions of lyricism and the reverence of nature. The ancient runic roots of these traditions rarely get the attention that they deserve, and they are well-served here. It is a pleasure to read the poems aloud, feeling the rhythms with which they are instilled. The poems are both intensely personal and resonate with a universal voice.
Ancestral Journey—Beneath Ice Sheets, the first poem of the first section, also titled Beneath Ice Sheets starts “My ancestors migrated forward in time, but I migrate backward,” and to my mind this is a key to all twenty-one poems. Weeks integrates standing in the present and looking to a past that has been handed down to her— not just reporting on what she’s been told, but having experienced the stories for herself, takes us with her.
Salme-in-Silk, in the third section, Helix, dedicated to the author’s mother, struck a particular chord with me, because I had the honor of knowing Salme in the Estonian-American community, and she was an extraordinary woman. But reading the poem, written in a mystical and lyric voice, it transcends the personal and delivers a rich visceral experience. I hope these poems are read by many and enjoyed by all who do.
~ Tiina Aleman, translator, from the Estonian, Shape of Time, poems by Doris Kareva.