Berit Petolai (Estonia)

Berit Petolai is a wandering poet and gatherer who lives with her family amid forests and fields in the small scattered village of Meoma, in the Peipsiääre municipality. Berit’s texts have been published in the journals Looming and Värske Rõhk, in the newspaper Müürileht, and in the anthology “Wild Word” (impressions from writers’ excursions to Palupõhja during the 2015 Prima Vista festival). Her poems and prose piece “The Return of the Witch Bear” have been translated into Finnish.

In Berit’s work resonates the voice of a simple and direct thinker, closely intertwined with nature, the beauty of human life’s breathing and pulsating alongside nature. Time and its passage, human anchors in the ever-flowing whirlwind of time, weave a resilient fabric that hints at timeless wisdom and an understanding of how everyday life can be something mundane yet sacred and nourishing. Nature, with all its tiniest participants, lends Berit’s texts a lively, effervescent, and gratitude-filled authentic flavour. Place and the sensitively captured spirit of the location veil the flowing poetry as ballads with a certain mystery, allowing the reader to feel that they have the opportunity to peek into a world where magic, fairy tales, and the beautiful and pure power of words still exist. Berit’s second poetry collection will be published this year, and a collection of prose stories is also in the works.

Berit studied Estonian and world literature at the University of Tartu. She works as a librarian at the Koosa village library, enticing children to read. Being kindred spirits with owls, Berit can usually be found wandering the roads of Meoma in the evenings with her three daughters, dog, and two cats, with a pen, notebook, binoculars, and mushroom knife in her pocket.

Contemplating various future scenarios, Berit provides a succinct hint in response: Nature provides hope. When the time comes, one must pack up their family and three bags and move to live under a fir tree, accompanied by a butterfly, snail, and beetle, just as Juhan Liiv once calmly said in his poem “Kuuseke” (“The Little Fir Tree.”)

In the spring of 2017, Berit was awarded the Prima Vista debut prize for her poems  „Kolletamispäev” (“Browning Day”), „Hundid ja vanamehed” (“Wolves and Old Men”), and “Tütrele” (“For My Daughter”) published in the 2016 issue of Looming. In 2019, the author’s debut collection, “The Humming Winds of Meoma,” was selected as one of the nominees for the Betti Alver debut prize. In 2021, Berit was awarded the Juhan Liiv Poetry Prize for the poem “Tõnkadi-lõnk” (“Clankity-clank”), published in the February 2020 issue of Looming.

Foto: Berit Petolai
Berit Petolai

Visiting the Writer of the Day Berit Petolai at Meoma: poetry, accordion music, village swing, and spring bonfire

Tones of the Future in Estonia