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Eugenijus Ališanka is one of the most translated Lithuanian poets: he has had more than ten books published in English, German, Russian, and some rarer languages like Slovenian and Finnish. Ališanka travels extensively, often spending time at various writers’ residences abroad and participating in events and festivals. He is also a prolific translator of poetry from English and Polish (selected poems by Tadeusz Różewicz are forthcoming this year), and an ambitious intellectual thinker. He is also a good, thoughtful essayist: he mixes cultural references with travel impressions and writes a lot about literature in the contemporary world as well as the author’s image and self-image.

Biography taken from Lithuanian Culture Institute

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Eugenijus Alishanka review 02Eugenijus Ališanka, Stuburo tik punktyrai, Vilnius: Lietuvos Rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2016, 102 p.

Eugenijus Ališanka is one of the most translated contemporary Lithuanian poets. He belongs to the middle generation that is no longer affected by the past of Soviet occupation, but at the same time he does not tend to play the textual games of the more experimental younger generation of Lithuanian poets. Both the youngest and the middle generations of Lithuanian poets have the same goal in mind: to bring Lithuanian poetry close to Western poetry, and to weave their texts into the common cultural fabric of the paradigm of Western civilization. This is done by writing poems which features, among other things, the various realities of Western culture, including ancient Greece and later periods. Still, Ališanka’s latest book Stuburo tik punktyrai (Just Dotted Lines for the Spine) differs from the work of his younger colleagues (Vytautas Stankus, Nerijus Cibulskas, Mantas Balakauskas, Ernestas Noreika, Aušra Kaziliūnaitė, and others), and the main difference lies in extremely strong emphasis on internationalism. One feels that the poet lives not in a narrow, national, and peripheral reality but in the Eastern European region that has literary qualities he is capable of developing individually and originally.  Unlike young Lithuanian poets, Ališanka not only inserts allusions and references to Western cultural figures and texts into his own work; he also speaks by originally interpreting their intonations. In the book Stuburo tik punktyrai the Anglo-Saxon influence on the way of speaking of the lyrical subject of the poems, on its intonation and versification, and thus on thinking, is obvious.  Another quality that distinguishes this collection from the younger generation of Lithuanian poets is the primacy of thinking and thought over feeling. The subject of Ališanka’s poems is not the human states inherent in existential philosophy, which was very important and topical in Soviet Lithuania: the reality built in the poems is not absurd because the subject is simply reflecting on his being in the wide and open world. It is paradoxical that Soviet conditions have a considerably lesser impact on the work of Ališanka as a poet of the middle generation than on the young authors who absorbed the burden of the past from the post-Soviet school, university, and their parents. Eugenijus Ališanka has one of the most liberal approaches to poetic speaking because he travels a lot and is open to ever new experiences that are not restricted by regions or state borders. The accentuated sensitivity and vulnerability of the literary subject of Czesław Miłosz’s generation is not characteristic of Ališanka’s work.

Stuburo tik punktyrai is a collection of texts for the age of globalization affected by all aspects of the postmodern human condition: the conditionality of space, the refusal to settle in an actual horizon-limited place, the perception of self and time as a category that involves not just the time from birth to writing. Ališanka’s poetry merges a deep reading of the works of other authors with a unique yet subtle personal experience. The author does not entertain illusions that he is experienced or has exclusive experiences: the events of human life recur and art depends not on experiences but on the ability to transform experience into reflection. Ališanka’s Stuburo tik punktyrai explores the four parts of the world unrestricted by nationality, language, or literary attachment to clichés. The lyrical subject of his poems openly contemplates the difference between a banal and original metaphor: he is walking on the thin ice of epigonism but does not fall through because he has the support of his “spine.” The language of Ališanka’s latest book reads as though it is ready to be translated: unexpectedly and highly uncharacteristic of contemporary Lithuanian literature, the poet succeeds in speaking in a register that does not impoverish the Lithuanian language and at the same time engages it in a broad linguistic context. The poet thinks in Lithuanian yet the novelty of his thinking patterns arises from his ability to rely on experiences that are no longer narrowly Lithuanian while thinking in Lithuanian.

Invoking the metaphor of the “spine” the dramaturgy of Ališanka’s book can be perceived as one characterized by gradual reduction of speaking of the self: the book opens with a rather personal poem in which the experiences of the subject hardly differ from those of the poet, and closes with a broad generalization of the Decalogue of poetry set out in the last poem of the book. Another dramaturgical effect is movement away from death and the attitude to reflection as a killing action towards generalization and birth as liberation of self. In general terms, the book opens with the personal and death, and it closes with the universal and the assertion of life.

Considering the future fate of Ališanka’s Stuburo tik punktyrai, it is worth thinking about the end of the postmodern epoch and the transition to the postcolonial state. In this respect, the subject of Ališanka’s poems continues to belong to the last century on the one hand, but on the other, the ability to be liberated from inner complexes formed by colonization points to free and meaningfully existing poetry in the twenty-first—postcolonial—century. Thinking of even farther prospects—transformation of a postcolonial state to one dominated by nationalism—Ališanka’s Stuburo tik punktyrai remains a book asserting the reality of an individual liberated from national myths.

Like many other good poetry texts by other authors, the latest poetry collection by Eugenijus Ališanka is finally free of chronological time and operates like a time machine: in his poems the reader will encounter the heroes of Classical myths, T. S. Elliot and Zygmunt Herbert, and numerous other favorite authors and personages. In this way the author asserts not only the vitality of the speaker of the poem and of its reader, but also the life of culture that will likely live on indefinitely. Poetry affirms it through voice, one of the most sensitive and unique modalities of the existence of the individual in the world.

 

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