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Mindaugas Valiukas (b. 1976) is a poet, prose writer, musician and dramatist. He studied Lithuanian language and literature at the Lithuanian Pedagogical University, and received a bachelor’s degree from Klaipeda University in philology and theater studies. He worked in Klaipėda Puppet Theater as an actor and dramatist. His first poetry collection, The Moon’s Ceramics, won the Zigmas Gaidamavičius-Gėlė Prize for best debut of the year. Two more poetry collections followed: Stolen Nail (2003) and Mouth Harp (2006), as well as a collection of theater works: Creator’s Death (2005). His new poetry collection Teacher Teaching Death was published in 2018.

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Mindaugas Valiukas review 02

In Western eighteenth-century philosophy, with positivism as the prevailing school of thought, it was common to see the world was rational, orderly, and logically explainable—just think of Auguste Comte. Since the second half of the twentieth century, however, the belief in the omnipotent mind, philosophy, cultural criticism, and literature was lost, and people have come to increasingly admit that there is something irrational about our reality, something difficult to explain with direct argumentation only.

In this context, poet Mindaugas Valiukas published his fourth book this year, a collection of poems called Mokytojas mirti ir kitos poemos (Teacher To Die And Other Poems). Through disarming logic, this book restores an ancient way, since forgotten, of interpreting the world—through the primacy of paradox. In Eastern Europe, where politics and even philosophy try to return people to the reality of doxa and rules as well as to create obedience to authority, Valiukas uses his book to resist being bound to understanding the world in this outdated way and tries to revitalize paradoxical thinking at a time when it as valuable and needed as ever before.

Mokytojas mirti ir kitos poemos is a collection of poems that clearly tells us that death, its attributes, and its related experiences are exploited today, as if reality has been sucked up and emptied. Even pop lifestyle magazines talk about how we don’t know how to die anymore and how this process has become taboo in our public space as well as our literary work. Such testimonies, however, are fruitless, as merely indicating a fact, event, or state isn’t useful. Valiukas and the narrator of his poems discusses how we’ve forgotten death as a process so deeply that we’ve started living as if we ourselves were dead or had never been born; death is pushed so far aside that this rejection itself becomes the realest reality of all. It is not enough to state that Valiukas’s book shows how we don’t know how to die anymore—we don’t know how to live, and that almost always means an inability to love too. Again, the pop discourse often discusses how people don’t have time for each other, so love is somewhat of a legal agreement for being together, and nothing else. These are all banal statements that have zero impact, probably because they are constantly repeated. The persona narrating Valiukas’s poems laconically reveals the ability to love in concrete moments. Nothing prevents us from incorporating into our daily lives, at the very least, feelings directed towards another person; this happens in a specific moment, so the freedom of choice has been preserved. Mokytojas mirti ir kitos poemos is a rather radical assertation that one person still needs another. Sadly, modern routine life often shows that we tend to use other people and relationships—just like death—anddispose of them like trash.

Valiukas’s book is not just sweet poetic and lyrical talk about human relationships: poems in which a subtle sentiment for another person can be felt are immediately balanced out by others where the author reveals a truth very old in the history of humanity, yet deeply forgotten: that a human body is not only beautiful and glamorous on magazine covers, but also disgusting, sordid, and sometimes vulgar. For this reason the poetry collection Mokytojas mirti ir kitos poemos demonstrates that it is not only others that we are eager to discard like used commodities, but also ourselves—because who needs such filth anyway?

When everything that is on this earth becomes exploited, God’s turn comes too. This is what Valiukas writes about in his poem “Jesus/Super/Market.” Jesus, as one of the three elements of the Holy Trinity in Catholic religion, becomes a boy whose identity is uninstalled like a computer application. People tend to abandon the sensations of divinity or the world beyond and push them aside as just another relic of the past. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about God’s death a century ago. And yet even after this utterance, memories of God’s mortification kept tormenting people. In Valiukas’s book humans have simply forgotten that God ever existed at all. Everything that cannot be bought in a supermarket must be eliminated.

So Valiukas’s poetry collection Mokytojas mirti ir kitos poemos is an attempt to survive in an exploited emptiness, where the existence and realness of the poetic speaker himself is proved by ironical thinking and a sense of rhythm, one that is simply irrevocable in this book. In a world where everything has existed and almost nothing is left, rhythm remains, creating a testimony of a still-pulsating life, the last stage before death. The ironic Valiukas is not a cold observer: scenes provoke a thought, one that needs both a physical and a mental distance, and preserve the relationship between the subject and the object; the ironic language in this book is the life cord between this thought as artwork and the speaker. This is why the author needed to create a character named Dausprungas (translator’s note: after the brother of Lithuania’s first and only king Mindaugas). Someone having a name, a historicity, a biography, eyes, speech, and the power of laughter is capable of living, loving, and dying, can feel the subtle existence of a world beyond, still hasn’t been exploited and preserves everything that people today have given up. The poetry book becomes something that cannot be exploited, an object that is alive.

Translated by Alexandra Bondarev

 

 

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