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In exile and in the shadows: August Pihlak, the king of sonnets

The article examines the poetical works by August Pihlak (1903–1970), Estonian exile poet who fled from Estonia to the USA during World War II. Although, from a strictly objective point of view, his poetry’s contribution to the Estonian sonnet tradition is remarkable, he has practically been left out from Estonian literary history. Also, none of his seven poetry collections has ever been reviewed in any literary magazine. Among other poems Pihlak’s poetry collections include 229 sonnets, which makes him one of the most productive Estonian sonneteers. Furthermore, he is the only Estonian poet who has written six heroic crowns (sonnet redoublé). The formal aspects of his sonnets are often multifarious and playful – he frequently experiments with the sonnets’ rhyme schemes, stanzas and verse meter. The characteristic feature of Pihlak’s sonnet production is their so-called autometapoetical function: his sonnets’ formal elements tend to harmonize with their verbal message.

The article analyzes August Pihlak’s rich sonnet production by discussing different aspects of his poems: rhyme schemes, meter, stanzas, poet’s voice, lexicon, thematics and ideology; also, this is an attempt to explicate a poet’s exclusion from a poetry tradition despite his indisputable contribution to it in some levels. The introductory part of the article gives a brief overview of his life.