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Aušra Kaziliūnaitė

Aušra Kaziliūnaitė (b.1987) is a poet.
She received a BA in history and an MA in religious studies from the Lithuanian Pedagogical University. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral studies in philosophy at Vilnius University. She has published two collections of poetry: First Lithuanian Book (2007) and 20% Concentration Camp (2009).
For the former, she was awarded the Elena Mezginaitė Prize. Her third book, The Moon is a Pill, was published in 2014. Her fourth poetry book I am Crumbled Walls came out in 2016.
Aušra is one of the youngest members of the Lithuanian Writer’s Union.
She currently is on an internship in the University of Amsterdam, the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA).

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by Lina Buividavičiūtė

Ausra Kaziliunaite review 02Aušra Kaziliūnaitė, Esu aptrupėjusios sienos, Vilnius: kitos knygos, 2016, 109 p.

Aušra Kaziliūnaitė (b. 1987) is a name well known in Lithuanian literature. The poet, who is also a doctoral student of philosophy and a human rights activist, has so far published three books of poetry: Pirmoji lietuviška knyga (2007; The First Lithuanian Book), 20% koncentracijos stovykla (2009; 20% Concentration Camp), and Mėnulis yra tabletė (2014; The Moon Is a Pill). She is a recipient of such awards as the Jurga Ivanauskaitė Prize and the Young Artist Prize of the Ministry of Culture, both in 2016. Kaziliūnaitė’s work has been translated into English, French, German, Latvian, and Polish.

Her fourth poetry collection Esu aptrupėjusios sienos (I Am Crumbled Walls) is special in that illustrative photography by Laima Stasiulionytė reflects the overall mood of the book. This collection invites the reader to meditate on the words and images, while its ambivalence adds to the impact of attentive listening and visual contemplation.  Before opening a poetry collection I like to “divine” what the book title connotes and promises, and later I check if the initial expectation was fulfilled. The title of Kaziliūnaitė’s book is very eloquent: it has connotations of boundaries—their functions and the consequences of crossing them. On the other hand, it is reminiscent of the existential code: eroding, dying, and the daily gradual dissolution of the body and mind’s potential. Indeed, the book has all this and more. The author thus introduces her collection: “This book is about my ‘I,’ about boundaries and the efforts to escape them. Walls are boundaries. We think, feel, or infer our boundaries, the confines of a room, the borders of countries or of the world, the boundaries of objects, the limits of various categories, the boundaries of poetry or a book.  Boundaries or even the fact of their inferred or actual existence create, protect, and defend us, and they separate us from others and imprison. We can attempt to bypass or destroy them, but what eventually is left after such an attempt is crumbling walls.” The initial guesses are confirmed and the next step is to meditate on all the opening walls.

The book is divided into four themes representing the key spheres that the author and the subject of her poems are concerned with: “Žmogus” (The Human), “Miestas” (The City), “Daiktai” (Objects), and “Gamta” (Nature). The selected fundamental subjects, objects, and phenomena are in harmony with the motif of walls as the reader is invited to examine the boundaries and expanses of those walls.

Indeed, by building or destroying the signposts the author remains faithful to her creative self. This poetry collection abounds in paradoxes, the harmony of razor-sharp contrasts, striking and unexpected endings, social phenomena and mundane poetics, and a frugal and at times laconic—yet far from dry—style. Here, too, the author engages in the key theme of crumbling walls, border posts, and expanses and raises the most urgent themes and existential and social sores. Kaziliūnaitė’s poetry is polyphonic, many-sided, multi-layered, and contrasting. By exploring a single life (the poem “Mokslinis tyrimas”/Scientific Research) the poet opens up the social landscape of a whole generation. Religious realities are closely followed by profane existence: “God taught us / The 10 Commandments / while TV shows and Hollywood / say that sometimes people / are simply abducted by aliens” (p. 19). Curiously enough, these contrasts and paradoxes in Kaziliūnaitė’s poetry are, in my opinion, inherently organic, neither artificial nor far-fetched. The paradoxes are firmly planted, interesting, and come up at the right time and in the right place. They surprise and call for a deeper reflection of the layers of poems: “a mother cradles her baby against her chest for the first time / it calms down and opens black eyes wide— / people talking of suicide / are beautiful and happy” (“Šauksmas”/A Cry, p. 23); “only by doing dull things and / hanging out with unpleasant people / can I believe that the world is beautiful” (“Viltis”/Hope, p. 30). The closing lines of the poems impress and surprise by their conclusions; they are precise and interact with the rest of the poems: “I had been learning courage / until I dared to fear sometimes” (“Mokiausi drąsos”/I had been learning courage, p. 26); “and a girl from Vilnius would read at a Christmas party in Vilnius to children from Vilnius not about / princesses of Vilnius and dwarves of Vilnius / but about eaten brains and practical Satanism / because evil must be fought by good” (“Drebančiu balseliu”/In a trembling voice, p. 40); “I couldn’t fall asleep while sleeping” (“Negalėjau užmigti”/ I couldn’t fall asleep, p. 49).

What is the world created by Kaziliūnaitė concerned with? As mentioned above, much is thought and reflected upon. The opening poems of the collection call for a questioning of the notion of God, which is done lustratively in the poem “O kas, jei dievas yra žuvėdra” (What if god is a seagull).  The writer-creator is dethroned during a peculiar poetic carnival and his untouchable sanctity is uncrowned (in the poem “Šventinis makiažas”/Festive makeup angels are depicted with machine guns) by his coming closer to the most banal scenes of everyday life, by neutralizing his inviolability and omnipotence, and by recording possible helplessness of god, the subject of the poem, which is confirmed by using lower-case letters to spell the word. These aspects are set out ironically, in a somewhat grotesque and shocking manner, by demonstrating openly the resulting chains of paradoxes: “what if god is a seagull mockingly wiggling its head in all directions / gobbling fish still alive and shitting on a Belarusian writer / and what if god is orange juice / with no sell-by date shown on the carton / that some Uncle Stasys bought for breakfast six years ago” (p. 18).

It is important for the subject of her poetry to record itself, to search for the core of I, to materialize into soul, and to ensure a harmonious sequence of filling in and emptying out:  “when the city drains us / we find place for ourselves / we can enter ourselves / and walk in the dark” (“Kai miestas ištuština mus”/When the city drains us, p. 41).

The transfer of meanings employed is also noteworthy: the body is often depicted as an object (“I couldn’t fall asleep / I mislaid / my body and my thoughts / it’s hot in them” [“Negalėjau užmigti”/I couldn’t fall asleep, p. 49]; “I laid out myself / in groceries / on the shelves” [“Augalai” / Plants, p. 60]). Phenomena and objects are often personified, sometimes to the brink of brutality or the highest point of tension. It connotes the closeness of the poem’s subject, an intimate elemental feeling and relation towards the nature objects depicted and the time for the phenomena borne in mind: “I will cut your face / O night / I will gauge your eyes / and feed them / to black birds” (“Savigyna”/Self-defense, p. 48). Death is shown in an equally original personified manner. It seems that in the poem “Rudens stiklainyje” (In the autumn jar), it is not feared, rather on the contrary: in the presence of non-existence, the fullness of being and unbridled joy unfold: “in the city’s autumn streets and squares / you can catch the cooking scent / of death / and your heart is filled / with maddening joy / you want to run and scream / and swing your arms about” (p. 52). Another object that Kaziliūnaitė depicts—a human in the city or a city in the human—is brought to life, depends on and obeys the subject:  “and my city was walking calmly / with hoisted flags and open windows / it knew how to sit on its hinds, sit, lie, and die” (“Narcizas ir pavadėlis”/Narcissus and a leash, p. 55).

One very important theme of this poetry collection is a social cross-section of the society around the poetic subject. This is done meticulously, with precision, through the personal prism of the subject, and in an extremely recognizable way: “I was the most sociophobic / when invited I would go to parties / where I knew hardly anyone / I would come to know everyone in an hour or two / although I was scared to even go to the shop across / the street to buy a white loaf” (“Mokiausi drąsos”/I had been learning courage, p. 26); “all my friends won fame / won fame as house owners and child bearers / like pacifists watched by security / like scientists spending 12 hours a day in a library / like people who are sometimes sad and sometimes merry” (“Žvaigždės”/Stars, p. 27). Examination of I, the Other, and the structure of the world is carried out with the help of vivid details of personal nature and of the history of the whole nation: “a Soviet block of flats in the first / we are sitting amidst stinking geraniums in the second” (“Trys vazonai”/Three flower pots, p. 44); “we povilas meaning to introduce the Stalinist order / in kasparas’ kitchen / and we kasparas back from London today” (“Vilnius yra užtvanka, ne tabletė”/Vilnius is a dam not a pill—an association with Kaziliūnaitė’s earlier book Mėnulis yra tablet, p. 59). The subject’s relation with history and patterns of social behavior arise vividly and in great detail in the poem “Žirgų lenktynės” (Horse race): “but now, when they haven’t died, when they are lying in the camp, in the cattle-shed fenced off / when circled by the army they are lying on the dung of racing horses / we hate them more than ourselves and do all to forget them / as soon as we can / we go to maxima to buy a white loaf, watch TV shows / we go to maxima to buy a white loaf,” p. 76).

To sum up, Kaziliūnaitė’s poetry is active, sharp, polyphonic, and of several planes. It embraces a number of themes, is based on social aspects, and is brimming with paradoxes. There is no doubt that it is worth the attention of a reader not having already crumbled.

 

 

 

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