Moonstruck: the first international Full Moon Poetry festival

by Ilmar Lehtpere

by Ilmar Lehtpere

"I've long dreamt of organising the poetry festival that I would like to be invited to. A poetry festival that would bring people together in some beautiful place in the countryside, a festival that would naturally unite poetry and song as one and would make Estonians conscious of the fact that by virtue of the existence of Estonian regilaul, we are not only an ancient nation of song, but an ancient nation of poetry as well." – Kristiina Ehin

Last year Kristiina Ehin, with the help of her parents, the well-known poets and translators Ly Seppel and Andres Ehin, turned her dream into reality and the 1st International Full Moon Poetry Festival (I Rahvusvaheline Täiskuu Luulefestival) was born. Twenty-four poets, singers and songwriters from Estonia and abroad, from as far away as the Shetland Islands to the west and Japan to the east, gathered at Luhtre Farm and Haimre Village Hall in Raplamaa county under a full moon from the 12th till the 16th  of September in a communal celebration of poetry and song. Among them were such well-known figures as Sujata Bhatt, Viggo Madsen, Mathura, Lauri Sommer, Kauksi Ülle, Andres Ehin, Ly Seppel and Ban'ya Natsuishi, to name but a few. And of course Kristiina Ehin.

Folklore and tradition have always played a central role in Kristiina's very contemporary poetry. There is no contradiction in this. Kristiina's work reflects a strong sense of continuity, a holistic view of the world that treasures Estonia's ancient poetic and musical heritage, indeed folklore and tradtion in all its manifestatations, and incorporates them in the world we live in. She regards herself as heir to the tradition of Estonian regilaul singer-poets.  The Popescu Prize judges, in awarding the most prestigious prize for poetry in translation in the English-speaking world to The Drums of Silence, Kristiina's first volume of poetry in English translation, said that Kristiina's work is "at once shamanic, drawing on deep historical traditions, but at the same time extremely of the moment".

This merging of the traditional and the contemporary, and the melding of poetry, song and music, characterised the whole Full Moon Poetry Festival. The participants stayed at an old restored farm in Raplamaa. There they all started the day together with breakfast in the farm house and from there they set off every day on fascinating trips devised by Kristiina and her team. As the festival's English translator, I had the great pleasure of taking part as well.

One outing led to Sillaotsa Farm Museum, where the participants learnt about the process of traditional bread making, from grinding grain to the finished product. They baked bread themselves and later did some Estonian folk dancing. On another day the historian and folklorist Jüri Metssalu took the group on an unforgettable tour of old sacred sites – sacred trees, sacred stones, sacred hills. He spoke enthusiastically about these sites, about their significance and about the need to respect and protect them. His listeners were visibly moved. On the following day the road led through Läänemaa to the sea. On the way Ly Seppel shared her poignant childhood memories of the Soviet occupation and the suffering it caused. These were just a few of the many very special moments shared by the festival participants.

The group very quickly bonded into a big family. Throughout the festival there was a lot of fun and laughter, a lot of spontaneous folk music, regilaul, and folk dancing.  Although the poets and songwriters were all very individual, Kristiina and her parents had invited people who were fundmentally like-minded in their very separate ways and who supported the underlying principles of the festival. As the festival charter states, "Every festival guest brings along their own poetry together with its roots and branches".

The first two full days culminated in poetry and song evenings for the general public at Haimre Village Hall on a stage set designed by Eliisa Ehin. This building is located near Luhtre Farm deep in the Estonian countryside far off the beaten track. And yet the hall was full to bursting – all the seats were taken, some people stood throughout, others sat on carpets laid out on the floor. They came from the surrounding countryside but many also drove for two hours from Tallinn or three hours from Tartu to be part of this remarkable event. 

The evenings began with regilaul composed by Kristiina Ehin and sung by Kristiina and Dave Murphy. The poets were introduced by Kristiina and 10 year-old Lõmaš. The poets read from their work in their mother tongues and the readings by the poets from abroad were followed by Estonian translations made by Andres Ehin. The translations were read by Kristiina, Ly Seppel and Andres on the first evening and actress Maria Peterson and Andres on the second evening. There was a very broad spectrum of poetry offered, ranging  from the work of the poets already mentioned, as well as Pär Hansson, Knuts Skujenieks, Martin Vabat, Patrick Cotter, Sayumi Kamakura and Katalin Szlukovényi to the irreverent humour of Contra, the sound poems of Peter Waugh, the songs of Lise Sinclair, Dave Murphy, Siiri Sisask and Jaak Johanson and the traditional singing of Meelika Hainsoo and Lauri Õunapuu. After the readings, everyone was invited to gather round a bonfire outside where the regilaul singing continued well after midnight. The poets then returned to Luhtre Farm where the music and conversation carried on into the wee hours. The poets from abroad were absolutely astonished that an audience would happily sit through more than four hours of poetry. They all agreed that such an event was impossible in their homelands.

On the final evening there was a reading for the poets at Luhtre Farm. As the readings for the general public had been translated only into Estonian, on the last evening English translations were read along with the originals, so that the poets could understand and appreciate each other's work. For those who didn't wish to read in English the translations were read by Sadie Murphy. Afterwards there was more folk dancing outside led by Kristiina, which then moved indoors and again lasted until the small hours, as no one wanted the festival to end. On the following morning there was a palpable air of sadness as everyone went their own way.

There was an organic unity about the Full Moon Poetry Festival with each activity, each event branching out naturally from the others like a tree, creating a living entity. Trees were a recurring motif on the excursions, and rightly so – trees are as firmly rooted in the Estonian soul as they are in the Estonian soil. The festival grew with Kristiina's nurturing like all of her work - rooted deep in the soil of her homeland, it grew spreading out, reaching for the sun and the magic of the full moon.

I asked some of the participants for their impressions six months after the festival and this is what they had to say:

Lise Sinclair (Shetland):
Only six measured moons? But the memory of walking in the Estonian forest; the particular trees and people met; hearing the songs and the stories; the cranes from beneath the surface of the lake; music and dancing; the night dogs; haiku voices of Estonian and Japanese; and the absolute warmth of friendship, sauna, dark bread... all are now as immediate as the moon appears on Shetland and Estonia at the same time and we are joined by those silver threads, woven through the sky of a whole winter.
The festival is very special, the poets who are lucky to have met at that point in time and place, under the moon, have been given an Estonian gift.

Mathura (Estonia):
For me the Full Moon Festival was one of the greatest literary events I have had the good fortune to be part of.  By great I don't mean the festival's scale, which didn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary.  I mean the precedent that the festival set – in a social context as well as for the participants individually.  The Full Moon Festival confirms how fundamental it is to be together, come together before setting off on  new personal creative journeys in discovering oneself and the world.

Pär Hansson (Sweden):
Moments I will not forget from the festival:
   When Lise from Fair Isle started to sing in the round chapel in Haapsalu and Dave, the Irishman, answered from the big church room, a small, almost silent song. The collective dancing in the yard of Luhtre farm on the last evening. All the singing at the dinner table, by the fire outside Haimre Village Hall, in the sauna and from the stage. I didn’t know a word, but couldn’t resist  singing along. The bus trip to ancient and sacred places with Juri Metsalu. Some of the poems I brought back to Sweden for translation.
The festival gave me the opportunity to meet Estonian poets such as Mathura, Kristiina Ehin and Lauri Sommer. This April I will bring my writing students from Gotland folk high school to Estonia and Luhtre farm. We will come for education as well as pleasure, meet some of the poets and connect with our Estonian neighbours.

Lauri Sommer (Estonia):
This festival bore the countenance of its creators, the Ehin family. Here was Kristiina's broad romanticism and quest for closeness to the land, Andres's surrealism and sharp humour and Ly's practical organization and maternal steadiness. Singers and poets were presented here for probably the first time in Estonia in  more or less equal co-operative roles in which they melded together. The ground they share – poets' musicality and improvisation skills and musicians' feeling for text and ability to arrange words – should be developed and expanded to the advantage of both.  The variety of  participants led to many fresh exchanges of opinion.

Viggo Madsen (Denmark):
The mere title is enlightened evidence: The First International Full Moon Poetry Festival!
Through all time  two kinds of creatures have been connected with the Full Moon – werewolves and poets. And nobody really believes in werewolves anymore!
The actual event arranged by Kristiina Ehin, the Ehin family and others in Raplamaa was just as overwhelming as you can imagine.  Just close your eyes and see:
23 poets from about 10 different countries all over the world, meeting, living together, exchanging poetry and thoughts, sightseeing in the beautiful countryside, two five-hour evenings of readings and music for an enthusiastic audience in a fully crowded theatre in a  small village (which also includes an excellent library). Talk about wavelength! We were all on the same frequency!
It was marvelous to witness, to be part of! During those two evenings, to the best of my knowledge, we visited nearly every room in the house of poetry: the poem as next-door neighbour to song on the one hand, related to picture on the other, pure sound (leaning against silence), and as idea – just to give the range of the spectrum, from dada to rhyming, from figurative to abstract. Indeed, we covered it all.
And apropos  singing: one of the greatest impacts of the whole festival is the Estonians' singing! In a living tradition we in Denmark lost a long time ago – if we ever even had it. I am thinking of those spontaneous chain-songs –  a "cheer-leader"  taking the first line, everybody repeating –  which can go on for hours. In that sense all Estonians are poets. Singing poets. My respect!


TÄISKUU FULL MOON POETRY FESTIVAL is an international gathering of poets under a full moon at an old farm in Raplamaa amid tall fir trees, a place far away from the tumult of the city.  Here the twilight hour is kept, as is customary on Estonian farms.  In the silence the ear can hear every rustle, the ear can even hear the inaudible, the eye  perceive the invisible...

This, our first poetry festival,  is very conscious of traditional culture.  Our point of deparure is the knowledge that we are an ancient poetic nation whose treasury of folk song, indeed soul, is brimming with pure folk poetry.  Only yesterday we lived in a world where the whole of nature was imbued with a soul and mythology was full of secret meaning to us.  Something of this lives on within us to this very day. Creating poetry was not just some private, personal matter for Estonians, but a communal activity and shared joy of creation full of collective power.

Folklore and tradition speak to us even today.  They haven’t exhausted their significance.  A way of life bowing to the cult of consumerism presents us again and again with new challenges.  We have to learn again to hold together, preserve nature and use its gifts wisely.

Ancient wisdom is the wisdom of living roots – where we come from and where we are going.  “We come from a land of underground birds and three-coloured dogs, but where are we going?”asks the poet Andres Ehin.

On full moon nights we are all a little moonstruck, a little mad.  Then together we dare to ask the right questions that impel us to listen deeply to the answers, so deeply that we don’t know if they come from the collective unconscious or from the bottom of our very own hearts.  Or even if they are speaking to us about our past, present or future.  Every festival guest brings along their own poetry together with its roots and branches.

This somewhat mad  communal power at the time of the full moon will help us to hear the inaudible, see the invisible and say what can’t be put into words.


To barely see a person
from afar across the fields
disappearing at the bend of the grassland path
on a lonely autumn day,
to see only a little girl in a red coat,
to look well
at her back fading into the mist
and the little black dog toddling after her.
Streaks of sunset over the dark forest
and the knowledge that today
we won’t meet anyone else
transforms this picture into
something of birdcall, human fragility
like in olden times
or in thouands of years
or only today.


juniper wood
beneath the reed eaves,
a garden full of birds
and chestnuts in blossom,
a great  bright light
gathers in their crowns
as I lie on the ground looking

By evening I am
again herdsman of the dark sky;
I await a new
day and clarity.
Before I drop off
the sun appears flaring up
in the ashen clouds.

Everyone is left naked for a moment
before themselves.



May God keep the very girl
May Mary guard the very maiden
Who has to live in our times
Colours put into her hair
Her tresses cut off altogether
Toner put into her fringe
Clear faces made a mess of
Red strewn upon her face
Blue laid upon her eyes
Eyebrows plucked to slenderness
Breasts are even rearranged
More is put on her with plenty
Excess even added on to
Silicon injected in
Layers of fat are sucked out
Cellulite is stripped off
Haunches hewn and backside hacked
Nothing left to lean upon
No arse left to fart from.



Here beside this shallow sea
at the edge of these heaped stones,
where a white wagtail bobs,
a child climbs up to swing on a garden gate,
fir trees grow new shoots...
Here amid the columbines
to live your life out
to the very last grain.
Waiting, always waiting
for your husband back from the sea,
your family for dinner,
your children to come home...
Here all at once
all yearning and wonder,
hope and acquiescence.



in spring
long-limbed sorrow
appears on the city streets from the great forest

it sometimes happens
that she has the calf of sorrow with her

the head of sorrow
is tired from carrying those large antlers

police cars surround sorrow
force her through an archway
and from there to a courtyard
surrounded by grey stone walls
where sorrow is shot with a tranquiliser dart

several uniformed men
hoist mother-sorrow deep asleep
into the back of a lorry

now the policemen dare
to come up close
to the moist-eyed calf of sorrow

slices of rye bread in their hands


by night at the riverside
together with irises of all colours
Your eye shines
a crown onto the head of my grey foal
Your eye puts
the stallions in a row
and entices the mares
into the high wet grass
Your eye wanders in my dreams
With the back of my throat
with the hollow of my knee
I feel its long gaze
and the whole night is filled
with a pure