Nights at the Museum: or, the Fabulist Adventures in Tartu, Estonia of the Old Man from Kentucky and His Familiars (Paperback)
"A magic poetical journey through Estonian history and a poet's life." Doris KarevaIn 2019, Ron Whitehead was named Writer in Residence for the UNESCO City of Literature international residency program in Tartu, Estonia and invited to spend April and May 2019 living in the Karl Ristikivi Muuseum. When he arrived, he had no intention of writing a book of poems about Estonia. He had resolved to use the gift of the residency to finish two manuscripts. He also eagerly anticipated helping coordinate Estonia's first Insomniacathon-a 24-hour nonstop poetry and music performance to conclude Tartu's 2019 International Prima Vista Literature Festival. Since he was young, Ron has had wanderlust and simultaneously experiences profound homesickness immediately upon leaving. To help distract him from missing home as he adjusted to complete immersion in Estonia and to challenge him to get out and about, Ron's partner in art and life-Jinn Bug-suggested he take long walks and write a daily poem about what he saw and experienced. Ron's first poem-which does not appear in this manuscript-was raw and painful. Jinn invented a device-the adventures of an old man and an imaginary boy in Estonia-and suggested creating a series of fairytale-like storied poems that explored the folklore, myth, politics, and culture of Estonia while simultaneously capturing a bit of the poets' own human experiences. Separated by 5,000 miles and a seven-hour time difference, the two poets visited daily with each other via Facebook video calls and in the body of this manuscript. In late April 2019, Jinn joined Ron for ten days in Estonia. The poems in this book were born out of research, reading and personal experience, enriched by contacts made and friendships formed by Ron during his time as Writer in Residence. The poems were also enlivened by mutual puzzling over and attempting to explain and understand things that were foreign. Simple questions such as "What to do with my trash in Estonia?" and "What is up with this stupid coffee machine?" challenged creative minds to supply answers and explanations (see The Ogre's Lunch, The Illusion of Choice). Trying to wrap our hearts around what it might feel like to experience genocide and atrocity, occupation, war and exile influenced other poems in the book, including Words Worth Dying For, Homeland, and The Ghost of Karl Ristikivi. Other poems are our humble attempt to share the flavor of the history and culture of Estonia (Soup Town Days, The Cathedral of Crows). Still others explore our experiences of love and longing and loss and the phenomenon of aging in body while growing ever more unguarded and full of wonder inside (When Everything Blossoms, On the Terrible Loneliness of Heroes, The Field Guide). The old man who wanders the pages of this book is both Ron and is not Ron. The boy who travels with the old man is both imaginary and real; he embodies both poets' childlikeness and can access delight and ancient wisdom in ways grown folks forget. The woman who loves flowers is both Jinn and is not Jinn. Other characters who appear in this book are loosely or closely based on actual Estonians while a few are completely symbolic inventions. There are, by the way, only amazing tiny flying squirrels in Estonia and no gray squirrels such as the ones which chatter in "Taking out the Trash." Wolves and hedgehogs and Rat Kings all exist in Estonia, as do werewolves, wizards, wise women, black storks and over 330 other species of birds. It is impossible for two travelers to capture the rich culture, history, and spirit of a country and its people in a slim book of verse. Our hope is that these 31 poemed stories will entertain, provoke and-more importantly-encourage others to learn about and dream of a fabulous place that transcends time and space, that encompasses myth and history, and which symbolizes the freedom song of an oppressed yet resilient and triumphant nation: Eesti Vabariik, the Republic of Estonia.