Häämaa 2020, 93 pp.
ISBN 9789949016594

Emotional Upbringing: Japanese Death Poems is Tõnis Vilu’s seventh poetry collection. On his blog, the author has written that it is a very personal, frank, and political work, but is above all human.[1] Although politics is a pervading theme, the author also asks the question: how can one be a good person?

            This handling of political topics is something new for Vilu. He is disappointed in the turn of events and criticizes Estonian right-wing politicians, writing bluntly:

“the Helmes are dicks, Kuusik’s a dick, Põlluaas / is a dick, Kaalep’s a dick, Reitelmann’s a dick, / Järvik’s a dick, they’re all dicks”. (p. 45)

Vilu is similarly disappointed in the media – reading the news (especially the Estonian daily Postimees) makes the lyrical narrator’s blood boil. Yet, outweighing political issues is the quest for righteousness:

“If I one day realize truly, for real, that /up till now I’ve gotten by only and just / (no more!) in order to get by / till now, / will I finally be a good person then?” (p. 44)

            Poems about Japan are indicated by a forward slash. They are thematically similar to the rest of the work, with the lyrical narrator readily revealing his thoughts and emotions. As the book’s subtitle hints, depressive moods dominate the writing. There are three things in life which are totally free, and for which there’s no point in seeking reasons: breakups, emigration, and suicide (p. 91). Repeatedly, the narrator expresses the notion that things would be better if he didn’t exist:

“How can I put it, the sense that I’ve / said it all the time, but it’s (as true as true can be): / I want to die.” (p. 70)

            Vilu has similarly discussed suicide and mental health in his earlier collections (especially in Kink psühholoogile (A Gift for a Psychologist)). The narrator is hopeless, afraid that nothing will ever help; afraid of what his children think of their father – who is prepared to jump at any second.

            Balancing out the bleak currents in the poems are the hope and efforts to come to terms with the fact that no one is constantly capable of being a good person, or even the best version of themselves.

            There is no definite answer to the author’s original question, though he writes:

“Sometimes it’s simply enough / for you to keep yourself from turning into / the worst version of yourself.” (p. 30)

            Is that sufficient, though? The Estonian Tonisu-san, living and working in Japan, doesn’t want to believe it:

                        “Is it enough? Miyazaki-sama. / Have I really, truly earned this?” (p. 30)

Kerstin Vestel studies literature at the University of Tartu and organizes cultural events in her free time.

[1] http://ilmavilus.blogspot.com/2020/02/tundekasvatus.html