Jaan Isotamm (pseudonym Johnny B. Isotamm, 19. X 1939 – 2. VI 2014) was a poet, collector and researcher of life stories.
He was born in Tartu, but lived in many places in Estonia in his childhood. In 1956 he was imprisoned for belonging to an underground youth organisation and sent to a labour camp in the Mordovian ASSR in Russia for seven years. After his release in 1963 Isotamm settled in Tartu; he was a dissident and lived a bohemian life in Tartu, working at various casual jobs in Tartu and south Estonia; from 1969 to 1988 he was a night-watchman. From 1988 to 2003 he worked in the editorial office of the journal Akadeemia. He was a well-known collector and researcher of life stories; in 2010-2011 he was an expert for the series of books published by the newspaper Eesti Päevaleht called Eesti mälu ('Estonia’s Memory') which collected together the best of Estonian memoirs.
Isotamm began writing poetry in the mid-sixties in samizdat journals. In 1968 his verses appeared in the journal Noorte Hääl. In 1971 he published the cycle Mees tänavalt ('The Man from the Street') in the collection Närvitrükk ('Nerve Print'), the work of four young men (Joel Sang, Jüri Üdi, Toomas Liiv and Johnny B. Isotamm).
Isotamm’s poetic self is in opposition to a world which oppresses individuality and produces anxiety. There are no illusions for this poetic self; his attitude to his surroundings is ironical. Isotamm mainly uses prose-like free verse and coarse language. Sometimes he uses verbal role-play and role-poems.
A. Mv. (Translated by C. M.)
Books in Estonian
Tekstiraamat. Luuletusi 1967-1970. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1972, 72 lk.
Mina - Johnny B. Tekste aastaist 1967-1974. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1999, 192 lk.
Jaan Isotamm, Nägija pimedate maal. Artikleid, intervjuusid, sõnavõtte. Koostanud Katrin Raid ja Mart Orav. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2015, 776 lk.