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Review: The Scent of Your Shadow, by Kristiina Ehin

Ehin's collection bears a title which leads the reader to suspect the contents might easily tip into the fey, and it is true to say that it is not always fully avoided. But from these also mainly short lyrics, although most have a longer breath than Kareva's, there emerges a problematic narrative behind which it is possible to glimpse an internal transaction between the poet and the woman that is the register of the poetic consciousness. Against an elemental Estonian backdrop similar to Kareva's, but with a significantly different presence of bird imagery, we find the figure of the poet seemingly fleeing transitional moments in her life and offering the paradox that only by refusing can we truly accept.

The introduction to Ehin's work insists on the importance of a long tradition of Estonian folk song, poetry and legend in her writing as well as on the depth of her engagement with the contemporary survival of that material. Ehin not only reads her poetry but performs traditional music as an essential part of the framing of her poems. When she appears in public, she does so in a dress bearing the names of her female ancestors as one means of marking the intense bond between women and the conservation of an oral tradition predating the emergence of a written Estonian literature. The accompanying introduction informs us that these poems straddle a period of two years which included the birth of her first child. The figure of the mother, then, is a dominant motif in many different ways.. The question of how the poet will assume this role emerges in several of these lyrics as does the question of how the bride might become the wife - traditional stages of the integration of the woman into society and moments in which the tension between the consciousness of the poet and the experience of the woman might make the English language reader think at times of Sylvia Plath (but without the revolt against Daddy).

I take off my bridal dress
for the first and last time


In the park lustful peacocks calling


I get the snaps undone
and slide the zip down
And already the silk slips down
over my waist and stomach and legs
falls rustling onto the floor
against the peacocks call
again the cocks cry


I will never become a blushing
one-dimensional bride
on this pagan night
I remain regardless of the white dress
custom and law
the bearer of feathered hominids into this world

Although the male is present, Ehin's is a matrilineal universe in which the woman's affinity with all that is Estonia is central. Arc are to be congratulated for their policy of parallel text presentation of the poetry in their translation series.