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The poet Nerijus Cibulskas is an author of two poetry books: Nutrinami [Erasables] and Archeologija [Archeology]. His poetry is calm and thoughtful, yet full of internal tensions; it often conveys elements of landscape and images of our surroundings. His lyricism hews closely to the Scandinavian tradition. Archeologija, according to the publisher, deals with “contemporary experiences, hidden beneath a painterly layer of images.” It has a quiet surface whose figurative language hides depth and emotion. Cibulskas is a master of metaphor and simile, subtly conveying internal experience and the relationship between humans and nature.

reflections on belonging

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by Erika Urbelevič

Nerijus Cibulskas review 02Nerijus Cibulskas. Archeologija: eilėraščiai, Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2016, 72 p.

Young poets frequently feel the responsibility to rebel. They do not write like the older generation of poets, they break the form of the poem, and their creative work is an amplified mouthpiece of their position. Recently, however, a curious tendency has been observed in Lithuania: young poets are seemingly looking to return to tradition in their own manner, and their bearing is calm and intelligent. The young poet Nerijus Cibulskas, whose poetry has already brought him prizes and has been reviewed in the cultural press, is one of them.

He entered the field of Lithuanian poetry with calm and assurance. His collection Nutrinami (2012; Erasable) won the First Book competition, and Archeologija (Archaeology) was published in 2016 and won the Young Yotvingian Prize for its author. Cibulskas’s age was not a spoke in the wheel: like other poets of his generation, such as Vytautas Stankus or Ernestas Noreika, he dispenses with teen revolt, stormy manifestos, screaming poetry, or too-modern writing styles. The poetry of the young is thought-out, accurate, and tidy; it would seem that at times it is more traditional than the poems by the poets of the middle generation. This difference could be probably explained by the cultural turning point that took place after the re-establishment of independence.

Aidas Marčėnas, Gintaras Grajauskas, and Sigitas Parulskis, the poets of the middle generation, were all born in Soviet times. Most of the artists had themes imposed on them, and their creative freedom was curtailed by various restrictions.  When Lithuania recovered its freedom, artists could experiment, change the collective understanding of the individual, and bring suppressed personal experiences, hunches, and individuality back to the center of the poem. The work and demeanor of the poets of the middle generation are somewhat rebellious and are inseparable from the moods present in a Lithuania being liberated. After the re-establishment of independence, the revolt in their work transformed into an unwillingness to declare manifestos or to belong to one group of poets or another. The poets of the middle generation even dislike being attributed to a generation—they are lone wolves, individual artists.

Among the young, born during or after the fight for independence in Lithuania, the feeling of community is more common.  Their eyes are turned toward the West. They travel, look at the world with eyes wide open, and try to understand themselves and find their place in it. The emerging young generation of poets has absorbed the theme of individualism from their older colleagues, but they do not need the underlying subtext of rebellion. It has been replaced by other themes and other ways of writing. For instance, Nerijus Cibulskas does not rely purely on an impulse or the feeling of the moment: he is concerned about the form of a poem.  His work is a secret spot with tiny drawers where he puts words, thus “tidying up” a poem and attributing each word with a specific place.  Precise and serious, even, I would say, mature themes come as a surprise. The theme of death, popular among the young, is also absent: the “dark” side of Cibulskas’s poetry shows up through the motifs of night, dreams, winter, and especially anxiety.

Born in the small town of Kaišiadorys, Cibulskas studied Lithuanian philology at Vilnius University. This might be the source of his attention to words and the fully finished poem that has garnered so many positive reviews in the cultural press.   In his first book Cibulskas addresses various themes. Birds make frequent appearances in his poems: a blue tit here and there, crows, larks, seagulls, magpies, and an occasional rook—the black bird of winter introduced by the poet as his “spirit animal.” Birds are often the heralds of the season of the year: for example, at the beginning of the book they are predominantly associated with winter. Birds land on the dirty snow and on balconies; they are perched on trees in the suburbs. In turn, the suburbs—close both to nature and the city—are important as the location of a poem.  This space is an escape to nature, to the sea that recurs in his poems, or, on the contrary, an escape to the turmoil of the city.

Archeologija, Cibulskas’s second book published in 2016, has established his place in the literary field of Lithuania: early in 2017 he became a member of the Writers’ Union. Archeologija is divided into three parts corresponding to the seasons of the year: spring and summer, autumn, and winter. It seems that the author is even more precise than in his first book: each poem and even each part of the collection opens and closes with an identical theme. The poems are tidy as each word and the feeling it conveys are well thought through. The reader of Archeologija is always accompanied by some vague premonition of anticipation mixed with anxiety.  The passage of time in the poems is not difficult to follow: it melts in summer heat, fills up with waiting in autumn, and seems to slows down in winter. The flow of time is important in Cibulskas’s poetry, and especially in Archeologija where the relationship between the individual and time is ambiguous. Sometimes it spreads out and it seems that the night will not end; alternatively, one wishes time to stop and the anxiety-laden waiting to culminate in nothing.

The seasons of the year come with their own sensations and symbols; transition from one to the other is filled with anxiety. Summer arrives with heat, sultriness, listlessness, and the scorching sun. The individual becomes a tense nerve catching the signs of the surroundings and keeping them like clues:

All those caught in the interrogating light
shake summer out of their pockets.

The highway grows like a stalactite,
sneaking up on unsuspecting towns.

(“Evidence”)

The suburbs recurring in the first book are replaced by other spaces—the seaside, a summer garden—in Archeologija. Here the subjects find shelter from summer sultriness and try to rediscover relationships between people, yet the foreboding of menace lingers on.

One could momentarily think it’s the tropics,
this whole place getting ready for a flood.

(“Yalta”)
    
In the second part summer heat is replaced by the signs of autumn, and then winter comes with the third part of the collection.  It arrives promptly and unexpectedly. Winter is sly: under a mask of fake merriment it leads the individual astray in the snow and permeates ordinary life and objects. The theme of winter, particularly in the second part of the book, resembles the work of the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, both in the rhythm of the poems and the change of the seasons, and in the depiction of winter anxiety (Cibulskas’s poetry creates intertextuality with Tranströmer’s work, and the first poem of the collection Nutrinami is a good example of this).

Anxiety and the atmosphere of vague premonitions are conveyed to the reader through other poetic themes. The motifs of loss in Archeologija are often associated with women who in Cibulskas’s poetry are distant and mysterious, unrestrained and independent, and sometimes emerge with water, such as a river or the sea.  In the poem “From the Autobiography of July 2015” a woman dashes toward the sea and disappears among holiday-makers.

The poet’s philological education makes its presence felt in Archeologija.  He enjoys words and chooses ever different and unexpected combinations of adjectives and nouns for each poem and its mood.

She who rises slowly now walks slowly
back to the cool parlor soaked in drops of light.

(“Indianas”)

Cibulskas provokes readers by combining incompatible words, by trying to make them leave the zone of comfortable reading and to surprise them.  He wants to convey a feeling—a fossil of a memento pulled out of memory—in as interesting and precise way as possible.
Cibulskas’s poetry is meant for persistent readers. The patient poet who gives much thought to each line demands an equally patient reader who is understanding and finds pleasure in words, their sound, and their place in a poem. He is an interesting representative of the young generation of poets. By analyzing anxiety and anticipation, by measuring and matching words, Cibulskas is in full control of his poem. He writes the poem in the way he wants it to be, and not in the way it comes out.

 

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