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Bull Hill
by David Rothenberg : Editor, Terra Nova



On April 27th the Estonian government took down a statue of a Russian soldier in a small park next to the national library in the capital city of Tallinn. Local Russians, nearly a third of the 1.5 million population, had taken to gathering at the monument to hold rallies calling for a return to the Soviet good old days. Since the Soviet Union gave up its occupation of Estonia in 1991, many Russians chose to stay in the newly free country with far more opportunities than their troubled native land. But now they were on the bottom, no longer the top. The situation had gotten tense.

Boarded windows and poetry at the Apollo Bookstore in Tallinn.
  Boarded windows and impromptu poetry at the Apollo Bookstore in Tallinn.
Photo by David Rothenberg.

The statue was removed quickly, and rioters took to the streets. Many shop windows in the 800-year-old Hanseatic city were smashed, including those of the Apollo Bookstore. The shop put up wooden boards immediately, with the letters “Avatud”, meaning “Open” plastered across the sides of a place that otherwise looked closed.

Several days later, a Baltic-wide literary festival was held in Tallinn, and when the participating writers saw the shop, they spontaneously wrote poems upon the walls, in the many languages heard along the Baltic Sea.

The Apollo had no further trouble with rioters, who all seemed to calm down after a few days. Not a single book was taken.

Here are some of the poems:


You say
bees die sleeping
but they
fall to the ground
downed by a stroke
they’re supposed to get
honey in their brains
and they come back
year after year

— Morten Søndergaard

(tr. from Danish by David Rothenberg and Catherine Barnes)



You used to leave
A child
In every city
But I beat you,
A city
In every child

— Rora [Rolandas Rastauskas]

(tr. from Lithuanian by Viktorija Jasiunaite)


The Story

Every person has
his own pain
every person uses
his pain

to make
other people feel pain
people don´t get
other people

because all people
have their own pain
and everybody feels pain
because of their pain

but I painfully want
to appreciate You
although it´s painful
that´s the story

— Kalju Kruusa

(tr. from Estonian by Tauno Vahter)


the heart has a certificate
hold it up to the light
you can’t read the text
only the watermark

— Aare Pilv

(tr. from Estonian by Tauno Vahter and Jaanika Peerna)


David Rothenberg's latest book, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution, was published by Bloomsbury in 2011. His latest CDs are Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast and You Can't Get There From Here. His next book, Bug Music, will appear in 2013. Catch up with him at www.DavidRothenberg.net.
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