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Karolis Baublys (b. 1982) is a poet and critic. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Lithuanian Philology and an MA in World Literature from Vilnius University. He worked as an editor of a literary criticism section of the weekly magazine Literatūra ir menas. His poetry has appeared in such publications as Literatūra ir menas, Šiaurės Atėnai and Nemunas. Baublys lives in Paris since 2010, where he graduated with an MA in Film and Audiovisual Studies from the New Sorbonne University. He is currently pursuing a doctoral study in Cinematography at Aix-Marseille University.
„The Iron Wind Vane“ is his first poetry book.

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Karolis Baublys review 02There aren’t many Lithuanian authors writing on LGBT(QI) themes. One of the first openly homoerotic scenes I read in Lithuanian prose was a fragment in Jurga Ivanauskaitė’s scandalous novel Ragana ir lietus (The Witch and the Rain, 1993), in which the main protagonist, disappointed in love and men, allows herself to be seduced by a lesbian who reads Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex with religious dedication. That scene is more gloomy and shallow than sensual because the woman’s attraction to her sex is depicted as a result of her disillusionment with men and of reading feminist literature. However, during the past decades, the situation has changed considerably: same-sex relationships feature in Gabija Grušaitė’s Neišsipildymas (Unfulfilled, 2010) and Stasys Šaltoka. Vieneri metai (Stasys Šaltoka, 2017); plenty of homoerotic motifs can be found in Laima Kreivytė’s poetry book Sapfo skai(s)tykla (Sappho's Purgatorial Library, 2013); and such scenes appear in Giedrė Kazlauskaitė’s poetry collections Heterų dainos (Songs of Hetaeras, 2008) and Meninos (Las Meninas, 2014). In works by these authors, homosexuality is regarded as part of the subject’s identity. Even though it may seem that LGBT(QI) themes in Lithuanian literature ceased to surprise, Neringa Dangvydė’s collection of fairy tales for children Gintarinė širdis (A Heart of Amber, 2014), in which alongside the storylines of traditional familial and romantic relationships there also runs a romantic connection between two princes, caused a wave of disapproval, and the book was removed from bookshops on the publisher’s request.

Another specificity of Lithuanian literature that the examples mentioned above adequately demonstrate is the fact that it is women writers who tend to choose same-sex relationships as one of their main subjects in both poetry and prose. I am inclined to explain this partly by the fact that on the current Lithuanian literary scene, women writers have proved to be more interested in experimenting and crossing the lines of traditional themes, genres, and form. However, 2017-2018 was an exceptional year in that sense as it saw two publications of important literary works with gay male relationships at their heart. The sociologist and poet Artūras Tereškinas, who has analyzed the subjects of masculinity and body in his sociological studies Vyrų pasaulis (It’s a Man’s World: Men and Wounded Masculinities in Lithuania, 2011) and Popkultūra: jausmų istorijos, kūniški tekstai (Pop Culture: Emotions, Bodies, Texts, 2013), debuted as a novelist with a book Nesibaigianti vasara. Sociologinis romanas apie meilę ir seksą (Neverending Summer: A Sociological Novel About Love and Sex, 2017). The author calls his novel a “sexual ethnography” documenting the homoerotic adventures of a young man and a story of unrequited love. The outstanding feature of the book is especially open, detailed, realistic sex scenes intertwined with quotes from sociological and philosophical texts that the author relies on in his quest to explain sexuality, desire, and the related cultural taboos.  Neverending Summer has received considerable attention, and the majority of reviews were positive, expressing joy at the arrival of our first openly homoerotic novel. Nevertheless, some have also noticed that the author failed to avoid certain stereotypes of gay men and their relationships.

A poetic debut of great significance has been Karolis Baublys’s (b. 1982) poetry collection Geležinė vėjarodė (The Iron Weathervane, 2018). Although lately he has been living in Paris, Baublys is a well-known personality in Lithuanian literature: following his literature studies at Vilnius University, the poet wrote reviews and edited a column dedicated to literary criticism for the cultural weekly Literatūra ir menas (Literature and Art).  His poems appeared in various publications. In Paris, where he has lived since 2010, Baublys attained an MA degree in film and audiovisual studies from the New Sorbonne University and is currently a PhD candidate in cinematography. I am not mentioning these biographical facts by accident—they determine the singularity of the poet’s work and partly his choice of theme and intertexts.

The title of the book evokes an image of an iron wind vane, which creates an ambiguous notion: iron is associated with firmness, stability, sharpness, and even pain (iron swords, knife blades), yet at the same time it speaks of constant movement and variability, as a wind vane changes its direction according to where the wind blows from. Baublys’s verse is continually changing and therefore is, in a certain way, stable. It is filled with pain and vitality, cultural signs, and autobiographical references. It is a men’s world—that of brothers, fathers, sons, and lovers, so the association of a wind vane, which in Lithuanian is of feminine gender, with the symbolic notion of a lost brother is not accidental:

you are not my ideal
my brother
but mutely show the way
with the cracked mirror of childhood
like a weathervane
above your stoney grave (p.26)
 
As the brother, the lyrical subject chooses constant change while being aware that this choice also comes with a destructive side (pasirinkęs nebūties labirintą / išėjai pasitikti auksinio rudens / užuot gėręs be saiko gaivų pavasario lietų — choosing the labyrinth of unbeing / you left to meet the golden fall / instead of imbibing the refreshing rain of spring, p. 26). Such existential stance brings Baublys’s poetry closer to work by Lithuanian poets who were exiled by the Second World War (mainly to the USA) and were writing abroad, namely the Žemininkai (Land poets), first and foremost, Alfonsas Nyka-Niliūnas, and the Bežemiai (Landless poets) such as Algimantas Mackus and Liūnė Sutema. There are references to authors who wrote in Lithuania, too. For example, in the poem “Trupančių žodžių nelaisvė” (The Unfreedom of Crumbling Words), the poet paraphrases the chrestomathic poem “Asiūkliai” (Horsetails) by Judita Vaičiūnaitė, who in the 1960s and 70s stood out with her brave love verses, (Cf. Baublys: siekim drauge / to svaiginančio / atskalūniško aukščio / tarp kūno ir žodžio — let us together seek / that enchanting / rebellious altitude / between body and word, p. 34). Vaičiūnaitė: Asiūkliai. Aistra. Atskalūniškas aukštis, / kurį tu pasiūlei – Horsetails. Passion. Rebellious altitude / that you offered (in Po ūkanotu atminties dangumi (Under The Memory’s Misty Sky, 2017, p. 89).

Baublys’s poetic language is also close to that of the émigré Lithuanian poets—ornamental, baroque in style, contrasting with the language of contemporary Lithuanian poetry, characteristically close to everyday speech or linguistic minimalism. The poet is particularly fond of epithets (negailestingas atskirties liudytojas — merciless witness of separation, belaikė laikrodžio atmintis — clock’s timeless memory, etc.) which create an effect of fanciful density that is not always justified. A lack of more careful editing is felt not only in phrasing: immoderate play with expressive images at times conceals the main line of thought, or the same image is repeated, turned around, modified over and over again until the reader is overcome with a feeling of overindulgence, akin to that which we are likely to experience when we set out to see every single painting in a gigantic gallery.

Nevertheless, as a whole, this poetry collection avoids such shortcomings. The Iron Weathervane is a deeply conceptual book that deals with both the history of masculine desire and its various forms and the history of its genesis. Opening the collection is the poem titled “Who’s Afraid of Karolis Baublys?” that alludes to Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” and Mike Nichols’s film of the same name. For this poem’s epigraph, the poet chose the line “I wanna be different” from Madonna’s song “Keep It Together,” evoking the context of popular culture. The dense layer of intertextuality and autobiographicity created by the mentioning of the poet’s full name have one feature in common—both the referenced intertextuality and the poet’s actual name emphasize the personality’s complexity and uniqueness, and at the same time speak of cultural determinism and mimicry. Who is Karolis Baublys, what are the essential elements of this person, why could anyone be afraid of him, and what are the things that in turn scare him? These are the questions that the two parts of The Iron Weathervane seek to answer in various ways.

The first chapter, “Užmirštas vaikystės dviratis” (The Forgotten Bicycle of Childhood), which begins with the epigraph from Kafka’s Letter to my Father, constitutes a certain “archeology of consciousness” (this is the title of the first poem in this chapter), the core components of which are complicated family relationships rooted in loss. The poems tell a story of a boy who grew up with a single mother, constantly longing for his father. The painfully felt absence of the father and brother (geležinės vėjarodės balsas / rūškano ryto / tyloj / prieš daugelį metų / išvykus tėvui // kiekvieną sekmadienį / sugrįždavo / tik dvidešimt minučių / tylos / vietoj artumo - the voice of an iron wind vane / in the silence / of an overcast morning / from many years ago / when the father left // every sunday / used to return / just twenty minutes / of silence / instead of closeness, p. 13; penkių rastų plaustas / patvinusioj pavasario upėj / ir tavo šešėlis / broli / kur tu - a five-log raft / in a flooded spring river / and your shadow / brother / where are you, p. 25) turns into masculine obsession —„akiniuotas berniukas / ieško tėvo / knygose filmuose paveikslų fragmentuose — bespectacled boy / is looking for the father / in books films fragments of paintings (p.14). This search for fathers and brothers is described in detail in the second part of the book Prasilenkiančios valtys (Passing Boats) — the lyrical subject, who as an iron wind vane is constantly changing direction, roams around encountering kings, odysseys and telemachi, black princes, don quixotes, hamlets, suffering sebastians and proud davids. This part of the book ends with a visualized liberation to be achieved by stability which will become possible once the narrator himself becomes a father, because a birth of a son nuvainikuoja karalių / ir ateitis įgyja konkretų pavidalą - decrowns a king / and the future acquires a concrete shape (p. 99).

These erotic verses are saved from sentimentality by aestheticization and intertextuality, both of which create an effect of distance, even of personality duplication. Refined language, complex images, metaphors, and references to cultural texts enable the reader to experience erotic adventures as aesthetic events. Appearing frequently is a dream setting, but the division between dream and reality is problematic: desire hurts (aštrus vakizašio pojūtis / pilve / priverčia mudu / tylėti tą patį — the sensation of a sharp wakisashi / in the pit of the stomach / forces both of us / to keep silent about the same, p. 36) and so awakens the reader from the immersion in fantasies drenched in cultural contexts, but it is precisely cultural contexts, the similarity of the encountered men to characters from literature, fine art, and film that create an erotic tension and generate desire and longing:


the beloved ones
that are turning into letters in books
into black and white movie frames
crumble in fragments of memory

I will peck them
devouringly
as a sparrow
to be able
to love again (p.96)

During his presentation of the book, Karolis Baublys expressed the thought that The Iron Weathervane is possibly the first book of Lithuanian poetry that chose homoerotic desire as its core theme— mano pasauly / berniukai myli berniukus — in my world / boys love boys (p.58). It is true, however, in my opinion, that the exceptional value of this poetry collection is not a palette of images of masculine desire and its depictions but the fact that here masculinity is seen as a problematic, complex phenomenon, encompassing both individual psychological aspects and cultural contexts.

 

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