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Dainius Gintalas is a poet and a translator who is often referred to as “the new barbarian.” His poetry is elemental, brimming with explosive power and the dregs of darkness and twilight. It is influenced by the “damned poets” and other unconventional literature.  He is one of those rare Lithuanian poets who does not shun erotic and open poetics, carnal physiology, and shocking and fetishist images.
He takes photographs of outhouses, dog houses, and ladders.

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by Elžbieta Banytė

 

Dainius Gintalas. Adatos: eilėraščiai. Vilnius: Tyto alba, 2016, 78, [2] p.

Adatos 2

The drop of blood on the book cover is so realistic that it makes you want to wipe it off with your wet finger. It has fallen so dramatically among the pinholes drawn there that you want either to shake with uneasiness or smile with cynicism. This drop is so elemental—life and death in one—that it makes you pause before reading the first poem because you have already experienced that strong feeling, that jab. The epigraphs of this collection, which is Dainius Gintalas’s third, also take a prod at the reader: “My style is like bad musical composition” (Ludwig Wittgenstein), “Those who have disposed of their demon make a nuisance of themselves with their angels” (Henri Michaux), and “A dog is better than I, for he has love and does not judge” (Abba Xantias).  The book Adatos (Needles) accommodates the recurring images of demons, angels, and dogs, irony, and the two eternal themes of literature as a whole—love and death. There are also the expectations of intertextuality: here you will not find nods to the classics and the canon of Lithuanian literature that Gintalas refers to as “slobbery”’ in his second collection, Boa. No, no, O Reader, you are moving towards something that will not represent classic beauty (“bad musical composition”), or traditional morals (Michaux’s quote); here, you will not find a glorification of human grandeur, either (for a dog is better).

The number three is especially significant in the structure of this book: the three epigraphs correspond to three parts: “the thaw,” “merciful morphine,” and “dog the drunkard.” They are fused into a single unit not only by a fairly consistent poetic lexicon, intertextuality, and images, but also by three “drops of mixture”—three long poems made up of the number of stanzas that corresponds to the number of syllables in a haiku. The mixture of “the thaw” is indeed very peaceful and spring-like; that of “merciful morphine” is intoxicated, while the mixture of “dog the drunkard” is like a synthesis of the former two. No doubt, such a move highlights the structure of the book and the meanings accentuated in each of its parts, but these stylized, seemingly Far Eastern texts are far from the strongest in the collection. It is therefore a bit strange why the author has chosen them to link the three parts of the book and at the same time to emphasize their differences. They are, of course, beautiful, especially when you read the three-line poems, but they bring to mind cards that have already been played in Lithuanian literature. Obviously, after an intensive pricking of the heart, the body, and the canon of poetry, mixtures like that might be useful, yet we must admit that it is not haiku poetry that is playing the first violin in the orchestra of Adatos.

The notion of the “orchestra” is not incidental here: Gintalas is one of those few Lithuanian poets who have mastered various genres and forms fairly well. He feels at ease with rhymed poetry and vers libre, with the sonnet and prose-like speaking. This genre diversity is one of the reasons why Adatos should, in my opinion, be awarded some not-too-standard literary prize. The intonation seems to be similar: prods at stereotypes, at the refined discourse of mergelės lelijėlės (“girl lilies,” a recurrent reference to young girls in folklore) and existential moaning, at the books that are a must on everybody’s reading list, and, in general, at the contemporary, yet petrified, poetics of Lithuanian literature. Nonetheless, various forms have been mastered in an extremely professional manner. I am somewhat suspicious of the author’s attempts to explain the text through personal experiences, yet while I was reading this collection I kept remembering that Dainius Gintalas is not only a poet but also an excellent translator from French and has translated the damned poets, a librettist of rock operas, and an expert and nurturer of modern art. It is evident that since linguistic practice has been carried out on a highly professional level, the results of individual creation deserve attention.

The central motif is sensuality, which is expressed through a woman’s figure. She is an amazon and a she-wolf, Diana Rogerson and Asherta, Cybele and Lisa Lyon, Ophelia and simply an anonymous beloved. In any case, she is THE Woman, the embodiment of lust, suffering, and happiness, drowning the lyrical subject in itself: “Bubbling inside YOU—I am your beast” (p. 67). Eros comes up as the dominant aspect of the meaning: it is not the elevated lyrical femininity that so often comes up in Lithuanian poetry inclined to sorrow and sighs, but quite hard and even somewhat fetishist predatory sexuality. It is in this sexuality that poetry begins and ends, and it accommodates all the vital and creative forces: “because you and me are one / because you and me are a meat-chopper of love / growling like a wolf’s larynx” (p. 78). I must admit that not all of these passages are in good taste: some are far too pretentious or too harsh and it seems they have been included in the text with the sole purpose of shocking (but as is well known, shocking a contemporary human is quite a difficult and not necessarily valuable endeavor): “a woman interbred with a helicopter / will immediately sweep the last poet away / from the surface of the earth” (p. 37).

Another not entirely convincing aspect is the explicitly explained encyclopedic field. Yes, Gintalas resorts to the broad contexts and intertextual references unusual for our poetry, but I am not sure whether it makes sense to list all Middle Eastern gods and explain their functions under “Baalo sonetai” (The Sonnets of Baal). Whoever needs this list will check it out for themselves. Were it a critical edition or a book intended for the mass reader, I would understand, but Adatos does not even attempt to fall into any of these two categories. Let us say, it is a democratization of poetry and a pampering of the galloping reader of the twenty-first century. It does not appear, though, that some of the explanations of the circumstances of writing one text or another would create some additional meanings, for instance: “The poem was written for Arnas Anskaitis’s conceptual art project that involved the use of Salomėja Nėris’s poetical lexicon” (p. 44). Salomėja Nėris is one of the most prominent and most popular Lithuanian lyrical poets of the twentieth century and the line našlaitė gero būdo (“the orphan girl of good nature”) will be attributed to her by any Lithuanian who has finished secondary school. There is no need for excuses why this paraphrase found its way to Gintalas’s text, which is “anti-lyrical” and thus “anti-Nėris” in all respects—as the ancient Romans used to say, let books have their own fate.

In general, Dainius Gintalas’s poetry is uncomfortably interesting and really piercing—maybe not terminally, but sufficiently for a tiny hole and a drop of blood. It pierces not only love, passion, existence, and everyday life, but also the abovementioned traditional poetical form. Adatos is dominated by dense rhythmic speaking; the author does not shun mundane, unsweetened, and ostensibly “anti-poetic” words: “how splendid it is / that this flood is upon us / or fuck-all we wouldn’t / have gone out at all” (p. 10) Therefore at times it produces a somewhat crooked smile, possibly ironic, or one that you express when you feel the pain of a jab. Language is manipulated in every way possible: the poems are genuinely original and different. One must walk into them as if trying to find a key to get into a locked room because the literary master key will not help—the armor is too strong. That is why anyone in search of an interesting, highly original and creative poetry book, of intertextuality that is not overused or trite, and of a richness in word choice should at least extend their hand towards Dainius Gintalas’s Adatos—and maybe the jab will be painfully pleasant.

 

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