Joel Sang


About Joel Sang


Joel Sang (born 15 May 1950) is a poet, critic, translator and essayist.

Sang was born in Pärnu as the son of August Sang and Kersti Merilaas, classics of Estonian poetry. He attended schools in Pärnu and in Tallinn, and studied mathematics and Estonian philology at Tartu State University. He also did his postgraduate studies there. Sang’s Candidate of Philology (currently PhD) thesis (1980) dealt with negation in Estonian. He has worked as a teacher, dramaturge at the Puppet Theatre and at the Language and Literature Institute. Sang has been an editor, e.g., of the journals Looming, Vikerkaar and Keel ja Kirjandus where he was chief editor from 2006–2016. He was the founder, manager and editor of the prestigious publishing company Vagabund (1991–2008). He is a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union from 1984.

Sang made his debut in poetry in the yearbook Suleproovid (‘Trying One’s Hand at Writing’) in the mid-1960s. Together with Toomas Liiv, Jüri Üdi and Johnny B. Isotamm, he was one of the authors of the collection Närvitrükk (‘Nerve Print’, 1971), which has become a classic of Estonian literature. The collection Ohvitseride maja (‘Officers’ Club’, 2008) provides an overview of his poetry which is demanding in both form and content, and where grotesque and irony, inventiveness and playfulness of language, unexpected connections between words and meanings play an essential role. These features also characterise his poetry for children, e.g., the collection Tulge eile meile! (‘Come and Visit Us Yesterday’, 2017).

Joel Sang has translated from Finnish (Pentti Saarikoski, Jan Blomstedt), Russian (Joseph Brodsky), Italian (Umberto Eco), French (François Villon), English (Isaac Bashevis Singer, Harold Pinter, Leszek Kołakowski, Howard Pyle’s 'The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood') and Swedish. He has written song lyrics and articles on linguistics, literary criticism and essays, which have also been published in collections, e.g., Mäng versus äng (‘Play versus Anguish’, 2020). Sang has been awarded the Order of the White Star, Class 4 (2011).

A. K. (Translated by I. A.)

Books in Estonian

Poetry collections
Toomas Liiv, Jüri Üdi, Johnny B. Isotamm, Joel Sang, Närvitrükk. Loomingu Raamatukogu 17. Tallinn: Perioodika, 1971, 98 lk. [2. trükk: 2023.]
Abisõnad. Loomingu Raamatukogu 1. Tallinn: Perioodika, 1983, 32 lk
Vigade parandus. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1988, 78 lk
Ohvitseride maja. Tallinn: Vagabund, 2008, 91 lk

Children’s books
Loomariik: lastelaule alamale ja ülemale astmele. Tallinn: Vagabund, 1991, 46 lk
Tulge eile meile!: salme noortele ja vanadele. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2017, 43 lk

Eitus eesti keeles. Tallinn: Valgus, 1983, 175 lk
Päripidi vastukarva: kirjatöid aastatest 1976-1986. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1987, 244 lk
Espresso: valik tööhüpoteese. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2010, 135 lk
Mäng versus äng: valik kirjatöid 2010-2020. Tallinn: EKSA, 2020, 215 lk