Poetry Mass

© Dmitri Kotjuh
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Venue: St Nicholas' Church (see on map)
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Original language: English and Estonian
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The Poetry Mass, one of the most substantial traditions of the HeadRead festival, the legacy of the erstwhile Nordic Poetry Festival, has always been held at the St Nicholas’ Church. The 13th-century church is one of the few sacred buildings that now offers refuge to a museum. The most valuable possession of the museum is the 15th-century painting Dance Macabre, made in the workshop of the German artist Bernt Notke. The central idea of this painting – memento mori – must remind the viewer of the limits of life, of the fact that the cold hand of death leaves no one untouched. However, since skeletons are interspersed with living people on the painting, this work can also be seen as a testimony to not only the finite nature of life but also the fact that life goes on. The dance of death is also the dance of life, individual life is limited but it continues in other lives, multiplies, recurs; from a human viewpoint, the dance can last an eternity. The paradox of the limits and continuing of life is certainly one of the themes that will dance in poetry forever, because poetry is perfect for reflecting on the timeless questions of human temporality. This year is no exception, when you can listen to Kai Aareleid, Adam Cullen, Berit Kaschan, Veronika Kivisilla and Kalju Kruusa. The poetic dance of life is framed by different generations, Maarja-Liis Mölder, who just published her debut collection Miks teisi ei lööda (Why You Don’t Hit Others), and a late debut by Rein Veidemann, who is an eminent literary scholar and prose author. Estonian authors will be complemented by Philip Gross and Katariin Raska with music.

Philip Gross

Philip Gross (1952) is an English writer and poet. His father Juhan Karl Gross (1919-2011) was an Estonian war refugee. Gross has visited Estonia before, most recently in 2011, when he came here to teach creative writing. He is a renowned poet, demonstrated by the fact that his collection of poems The Water Table (2009), inspired by the Bristol canal, won the prestigious T. S. Eliot Prize. He has published around twenty collections of poetry in total, and often his work is characterised by thematic cohesion and sensitive composition. This is also palpable in his more recent works: in the book of poetry Love Songs of Carbon (2015), Gross deals with ageing, and through it the general themes of physical existence or the physicality of existence, the temporality of matter. The book was named Wales Book of the Year in 2016. The collection of poems A Bright Acoustic (2017) is a poetic study of listening, a mapping of natural as well as artificial sounds.

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