Interview by Jurga Tumasonytė
The artistic bio of the text writer and musician Žygimantas Kudirka, 28, is regularly updated with new work, new awards, and new words of praise.
After a long interval, I saw him at a party. As a Silver Winner of the 2015 Young Lions Competitions, his Facebook page was packed with pictures from various gigs and music awards. I lightly remarked that now he only had to publish a book, and it turned out that a book was in process. The end of the winter saw the appearance of his poetry collection XXI a. Kudirka (Kudirka of the 21st Century). According to the back cover, the book consists of interactive poems, literary remixes, internet poetry, and texts of unusual graphic forms and content. The evening was turning into dusk when we met in a deserted bookshop to talk about it, and his mobile phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
Q: How do you define the notion of revolt?
Revolt is pushing forward, running from the comfort zone, and constant self-questioning as to where everything is to move next. It is also self-sacrifice in making a new step forward because it is not clear what awaits the genre you represent. Revolt, then, is the front row that puts the novelties to test, and only time shows whether these novelties serve the purpose.
Q: But you are not that classical avant-gardist who seeks to blow everything up and start from scratch—you start from tradition. Let us say, from your relative Vincas Kudirka, by ironically calling your book XXI a. Kudirka.
It is an inexhaustible treasury and it would be simply stupid not to use it, for it is not only a blood tie but also fields of activity—journalism, poetry, and music—that connect Vincas and me.
I am also interested in literary remixes or internet poetry, and all this is either references to something or rewritten texts, so really, I do not want to blow everything up and start from naught. Rather, I want to show existing things in a new light, to let them pass through the consciousness of the modern human being.
Q: Since you are the best known pioneer and the most popular representative of slam poetry in Lithuania, could you tell me how it all began?
Before us there were several attempts to organize slam, which attracted older poets. It used to be more like a literary bash that did not develop into a cyclic event. At the time nobody knew much about slam or what it was.
Seven years ago I was invited to Poezijos pavasaris as a budding poet, but when I read my texts I was told they were typical slam and I was sent to a slam competition in Germany.
That was where I learnt more about this phenomenon and its principles, and met Darius Jurevičius who was also treading similar waters. At the same time, in Lithuania, Domas Raibys was passionate about organizing slam readings. We shared what each of us knew and launched regular events. Eventually a group of permanent participants evolved and slam events began attracting sizeable audiences.
In countries where slam has a long tradition, we can trace an established and a somewhat similar manner of the texts. Our poets were much more colorful. In general, the definition “poet” does not say much: each poet is not only a poet—each poet has a profession. That is why slam in Lithuania is extraordinary—it has been read by representatives of a variety of professions: photographers, actors, security staff, copywriters, and even a prostitute.
Q: In what way has slam changed during those seven years?
At the beginning it was on the rise, and although some thought it was too early, the situation showed that the book Slemas Lietuvoje! (Slam in Lithuania!) was published at the right time, just like the documentary by Evaldas Jansas. This was followed by an ebb when the regular members of slam were pursuing their own interests. Still, the word about slam was spreading. And Domas Raibys’ persistent efforts to keep up the tradition of regular events contributed a lot to it. At present we have the second generation of slammers. Some time ago you simply had to show up at a slam event as the risk of no readers turning up was high. Now you can miss an event or two because you know there will be many participants and slam is no longer a one-time show.
Q: Can you remember the weirdest place where you performed slam?
Slam often takes place in unusual locations, not only in bars or at festivals. I have read slam through a mouthpiece from a balcony on Gedimino Avenue. Also in fields, where the microphone was placed amidst grass where, you would think, the sockets simply couldn’t exist.
Q: How do the literary elite react to slam?
It depends on particular individuals. There were some who not only supported slam but got involved in it. Also, there have been those who took interest and broadcast it to their students, and those who were curious about it but wouldn’t step on stage. No doubt there have been the skeptics who imagined that slam was an encroachment on their territory. Maybe some were envious of our success in instantly striking contact with the audience. Actually, with this movement we have attracted more cadets to literature than enticed others to our camp. The critics sometimes forget that slam cannot guarantee the quality of texts; it encourages critical thinking as the viewer can form an impression here and now and express this impression in points. Slam asserts complete freedom of expression and the principle of volunteerism. Quality and the list of participants is a constantly changing matter.
Q: There are texts in your book which you used to read aloud. What challenges did you face when putting down the slam texts?
Since many of my texts were written with an idea of them being read aloud, I did not include them in the book because they would have lost part of their charm if written down. The book restricted me as I could not affect the readers with my intonation. Therefore, I invented a concept: while reading, we always hear a voice in our minds, and often that voice is not our own voice. Depending on the manner or complexity of the text, not only the intonation, but the character and gender of that voice we hear in our head changes as well. Thus I transformed the acoustics that I could manipulate in live readings into a concept of imagination. Each of my texts has a reference to a voice in the head: the prototype of a character and the voice of my choice that the reader should imagine. I am planning an extension of that book: the same texts will be attributed new voices that the readers should hear in their heads. This will suffice for the whole book to be read entirely anew.
Q: The texts in which you provide the reader with information about the dubbing of the text in the head are accompanied by the descriptions of the genre and the method.
Genre is more a speculation and a creative platform. Methods, meanwhile, are the circumstances of and instructions for the creation of a text. Since the texts are conceptual, half of their charm would be lost without explanations.
Q: Quite recently one art critic has published your text as an exhibition review…
That poem was composed by computer-translating the sexiest English words into Lithuanian and by changing their grammatical cases and their word order. Having gone through my and my computer’s consciousnesses, that list of words turned into a poem.
And after that, the text of the poem, in its original form and without any distortions, changed its function and became a review of Šarūnas Sauka’s exhibition.
Q: You are a copywriter these days. How does copywriting affect your creative work? Is it that when you create advertising you get used to writing anytime and not when so-called “inspiration” strikes?
I never wait for inspiration: it hits when you have started writing. The main difference is that in advertising you do not speak in your voice and find somebody else’s tone of speaking. This must be useful to prose writers because when writing dialogue they must create not their own identity, but that of somebody else, and must be able to imitate the manner of the other individual. Writing poetry is a more egotistical thing because there you mostly speak in your own voice and create your own trademark. Like music, poetry is an ego-boosting genre.
Q: Advertising has a clearly defined category of consumers which you are addressing. How about poetry?
When I write literature I imagine more a state into which I would like to transport the reader. I hope I will manage to transport people of very different profiles to the same state.
When reading texts aloud, I grab the reader and control their emotions as if they are on an amusement park ride, just the way I want it. The book is similar: it abounds in explanations and contexts. It is not cloud poetry, which can materialize to readers in its most diverse forms that they will see themselves. My poetry is controlling and programming. I know what an individual should experience and I strive to achieve my goal.
Q: How do you see the generation that was born, in your own words, after the Chernobyl explosion?
We are an in-between generation who did not have computers for half of our youth. The youngest generation is even better at exploiting the potential of the computer and the internet and is much better at dealing with flows of information. We find it a bit more complicated, and we still have the habit of accumulating the information, although at present it is no longer sensible.
Here I would like to divert to the history of e-readers: when they appeared, their sales grew rapidly. Everyone was in a panic over this object that would replace books. But the first wave of e-readers subsided and sales stabilized. In fact, e-readers did not steal readers but, in their novel form, attracted more of them. At present such distributors of e-readers and e-books as Amazon are building huge warehouses for paper books in particular. Book sales are jumping up and up and have even surpassed the time before e-readers. Just like slam: it does not rob the community of litterateurs but nurtures new talents and new readers. It brings back the passion and electricity to literature like e-readers.