The Overwhelming Personality of fs

by Mart Velsker

fs is currently the shortest writer’s name in Estonia, used by Indrek Mesikepp (b. 1971), who graduated from Tartu University in 1999 as an art historian. Since 2000 he has been working at the literary magazine Looming. He has, in fact, had more pseudonyms: in the early 1990s, the notorious cultural paper Kostabi published the poems of François Snakesnake, after which the English snake became French, i.e. François Serpent, further shortened into the combination of letters fs. Serpent has published the collections of poetry God is Man Too (1997) and book with white covers (2000); his third collection bears the short title 2004 (2004). Samples of his text can also be found on fs’s homepage (http://www.eki.ee/kodud/fs/).

The muddle with the names could denote the author’s wish to avoid getting stuck in fixed identities; at the same time various fs interpreters have been tempted to describe the author’s identity by means of something outside poetry. This temptation is the stronger as the sources of fs’s inspiration derive from rock and pop culture, rather more than from other writers. In order to understand fs’s starting points, it is advisable to listen to bands such as The Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, and New Model Army. This is by no means essential for understanding fs, and certainly not a sufficient background – the music that he listens to, or the black leather trousers he wears, do not determine the style of his poetry. Equally, his poems are usually not meant for singing, nor do they shrink to mere supplements of dark rock. In the writer’s own words: “good poetry and good lyrics work in totally different modes” (Estonian daily ‘Eesti Päevaleht” 02.07.2004).

The poetics of lyrics thus does not dominate in any of fs’s collections, and all three are quite dissimilar. The first collection, God is Man Too, is the most mannerist. Lately, fs has distanced himself a bit from his texts of the 1990s, and talked about the ironic and camp aspects of his first collection (Looming 2002, no 9). Some familiar signs of the debut collection are still there, but the nucleus of today’s aims is probably elsewhere than it was a decade ago. From his debut collection until today, fs has used the letter ‘y’ instead of ‘ü’ (the latter is used in standard Estonian, the first occurs only in foreign words and names), but he is certainly not the only one in contemporary Estonian poetry to do so.  It can therefore be assumed that the usage of this letter, which in earlier Estonian literature seemed no more than a mannerist alternative, has become almost a ‘normal’ part of today’s language of poetry, and the stylistic meaning of this letter has diminished.

In the poetry following his debut collection, fs has increasingly moved away from stylistic games, whereas the personal touch and striving towards ‘vital’ honesty have increased. Together with this remarkable change that determines the imaginary nucleus, other types of movement can be detected in fs’s poetry: for example from shadowy metaphors and symbols towards describing the external; from dehumanised game to humanism, from rigid metre and end rhyme to free verse. The collection book with white covers combines these changes with personal torments and frequently acquires the shape of specific ‘horror poetry’. Again and again he intensifies the horror experience with rhetorical repetitions, e.g. the quite straightforward lines: horror enters the room / halts on the threshold, looks around / horror enters the room / closes the door behind / horror enters the room (“horror enters the room”).  Considering the mood, it seems perhaps logical that the covers of the book with white covers are in fact coal black.

There is not much brightness in the collection 2004 either, although living through one’s fears no longer appears to be an aim in itself here. Although the fears are here, they in no way differ from other things inside and around people. The book 2004 received the best poetry collection of the year award issued by the Estonian Cultural Endowment. On the one hand this is certainly proof that fs has become an original and compelling poet, but on the other hand there is reason to believe that the award jury was influenced in their decision-making by a pleasant surprise: after the first two collections fs was seen as an opponent of the tradition of ‘pretty’ poetry, a cultivator of mannerism and horror, but with the collection 2004 these delineations are no longer sufficient. In his newer poetry, fs seems to wish to speak about things “as they are”. He thus writes: we are all born in hospitals / long faded corridors / footsteps echo in the silence / the air is filled with the smell / of medicines and chlorine (“we are born in hospitals”)*. These lines contain an open generalisation from the start, although it derives from specific spaces and the related experiences of light and smell. The significance of spatial experience in fs’s newer poetry has become more lucid also in more general terms – in the last collection, for example, fs has turned into a sharp-witted describer of urban space in verse form. An Estonian reader easily recognises the town of Tartu, where the author lived for a long time, and also Tallinn, where he resides now.

With hindsight, one can also say about the book with white covers that things are ‘as they are’ here as well – this is poetry that registers the psychic states of the writer, mostly torments. In 2004 the psychic level is still important, but it is now supplemented by the external concreteness of the material world and the diversity expressed in that concreteness. This kind of orientation around the ‘external’ could be regarded as a striving towards objectivism that should counterbalance the subjectivity of the emotion-abounding lyricism. fs is a writer who  will not forget that writing poetry is not merely a spontaneous eruption of things personal, but also constitutes conscious and objective arrangement and regulation. He has described the writing process as follows: “I start writing when I feel that I really have something to say, and can more or less imagine how it should sound. Nevertheless I later read through the result with a critical eye, often remove or change something, and, quite honestly, this is the stage in the work where I torment myself trying to find the most suitable word that would express what I want to say most precisely. However, I can make changes even when one poem or another has already been printed. Crossing things out of course means abandoning whole texts.” (Eesti Päevaleht 02.07.2004).

The collection ‘2004’ additionally manifests, more lucidly than before, the social nature of fs’s poetry. The title was inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, and although fs’s text cannot be read as an anti-utopian social model, the manner in which the author describes the world (‘things are as they are’) nevertheless shows an aspiration towards merciless honesty that gives the text an anti-utopian, revealing clarity. The honesty of fs is intimate and personal, but it can also contain existential generalisations and political views – fs’s personality in his newer work has turned out to be humanly overwhelming.
 
fs Bibliography:
Vikerkaar 2000, no 7; Keel ja Kirjandus 2001, no 5; KesKus 2001, no 10; Looming 2002, no 9; Sirp  21.05.2004; Eesti Päevaleht 02.07.2004; Looming 2004, no 9; Vikerkaar 2004, no 9