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Review: Shape of Time, by Doris Kareva

... Doris Kareva's Shape of Time, translated from Estonian, seems somewhat bloodless and abstracted. Kareva trained as a philologist, and these sequences of short untitled poems often explore ideas about language: The blood of language roars in a verb she writes, and see / language burst, proud and frenzied, / ancient, awful, and fresh, / into unbelievable blossoms. Yet there's a sense in which her poetry is 'showing not telling' these facts about language; typically and abstrusely she writes of the letters of a wordless word and occasionally her aphoristic lines verge into new-ageish blandness: He who belongs in the universe / shares with everyone' (61) or Whoever has learned to love / has learned to die. Kareva's poetry is probably more meaty in the original, though: the dual translation shows long compound words in the Estonian which, when they occasionally get translated as one word ('painstone', 'mudpuddle', 'firesmoky'), add energy to the poems.

Amongst the abstractions, Kareva's concrete images stand out powerfully - a seaside house as a ship just landed, the thoughtful taste of wild thyme, the light in the groves' yellow copse all give a sense of her northern landscape, and occasionally she alludes to her country's past: I am chilled by history. / All borders are cages. These are intellectually ambitious poems, whose structure with its riffs and repetitions nods towards music, but they lack the gutsy vitality of Breen and Twichell whose poems make the 'loved world' so physical and sensual.