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Kornelijus Platelis was born in 1951 in Šiauliai. He published his first poems in 1977 and is the author of ten collections of verse: Žodziai ir dienos (Words and Days; 1980), Namai ant tilto (Home on the Bridge; 1984), Pinklės vėjui (Snare for the Wind; 1987), Luoto kevalas (The Boat Shell; 1990), Prakalbos upei (Orations to the River, 1995), Atoslūgio juosta (Tidemark, 2000), Palimpsestai (Palimpsests, 2004), Karstiniai reiškiniai (Cave Phenomena, 2010), Eilėraščiai, (Poems, 2014), and Įtrūkusios mėnesienos (Ruptured Moonlight, 2018).  His extended essay on the ecology of culture, Būstas prie Nemuno (Being by the Nemunas), was published in 1989 and Ir mes praeiname (And We Are Passing) in 2011. He has also translated many of the most important American and British poets – among them Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Robert Bringhurst, John Keats, e.e. cummings, Ted Hughes, Czesław Miłosz (poems and “The History of Polish Literature”), Wisława Szymborska, Artur Mędrzyrzecki, Adam Mickiewicz, Adam Naruszwicz – and has been instrumental in developing commentary for a new Lithuanian edition of the Bible. Among his many honors and awards is the National Award for Culture and Arts in 2002. Platelis is the initiator and organizer of the annual international literary festival Druskininkai Poetic Fall. His poetry is noted for its deeply intellectual voice, and inventive use of archetype and myth. It is a mixture of political and declarative styles on the one hand and mystical intensity and metaphysical questioning on the other. His poetry is translated into Armenian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Czech, Chinese, English, French, Gaelic, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Ukrainian and appeared in various editions. His poetry collections were published in Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, and USA (3).

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Kornelijus Platelis review 02

“I consider myself a poetry barbarian—my poems tend do have a certain rhythm, a passion,” says Kornelijus Platelis, the author of The Most Creative Book of 2018,  during his interview with a national broadcaster. His tenth collection of poems, entitled Įtrūkusios mėnesienos (Cracked Moonlight), was recognized as the most creative book of the year by the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore (LLTI), which annually announces a list of the best books written in Lithuanian during the previous twelve months.

When do researchers, such as those at the LLTI, worship barbarity? Probably when a person who declares themselves a barbarian is the ultimate poetry aristocrat, an intellectual who manages to control all poetic passions with concise words and accurate metaphors. Speech in Įtrūkusios mėnesienos is intellectual and (auto)ironic, and it plays with masks and rewrites ancient stories. Writing about Platelis’s work is difficult, as a certain pressure arises from the authority of his grand titles: he was a laureate of the National Prize, a former Minister of Education and Science, and the president of the Lithuanian Association of Art Creators. Perhaps this pressure is why this collection was so scarcely reviewed, having received far fewer reviews than any other poetry book that participated in The Book of The Year competition.

And yet it is worth writing about. It enables broader questions to be pondered. It isn’t always narcissistically directed towards itself, and even when it is, it is so only when it admires the possibilities of poetry and language itself, and then it often does so autoironically. Another tradition which thrives in Lithuanian literature is one of poet-philologists: in one way or another, the majority of the best authors of the last five decades have a degree in philology. Platelis’s educational scope as a poet is impeccable. His work demonstrates a broad, dense web of intertextual references, while his masterful translations show a meticulous outlook on contexts and versification and his conversations are characterized by accuracy, motivation, and wit. And yet Platelis admits to being self-taught: he graduated in construction engineering and worked in this field during the Soviet period. He says he felt free back then, freer than the poet-philologists, who are dependent on the mercy of editorials, and certainly freer than the editors, who became tools of censorship against their own will: he is proud to have never written a single verse glorifying the Soviet system. This independent stance provides the impetus behind the choice to rewrite, quote, and use Classical Antiquity for his own needs, a period which in Soviet times was seen as merely general cultural heritage, harmless tales no one believed in anymore. Thus, censorship did not pay too much attention to authors invoking it. It created an opportunity for writers to indirectly say what they had to say. Platelis, of course, was not the only one to take this opportunity, but his work is some of the most salient.

The cover of Įtrūkusios mėnesienos is adorned with an image of five female figurines dating from the second century BC and kept in the Archeological Museum of Nafplio—Deimantė Rybakovienė, the book’s illustrator, was presented with an award for this work in the Book Art Competition. Platelis has continued to use Antiquity as an inspiration. Although, naturally, now, when there is no need to hide a poem’s meaning,  it is used differently. Instead of writing about Odysseus’s intricate voyage or the opaque menace of the cyclops, he wrote “An Ode to The Free Market” (p. 118). So even if the author said he found social topics repulsive, they are in fact perceptible in Įtrūkusios mėnesienos, even if Platelis satirizes and ridicules them.

The most semantically important work in this book is “įtrūkis” (crack). There are all kinds of those here—cracks in perception, tradition, memory, even in the narrator of the poems himself. Furthermore, this collection is a whole gallery of masks. The speaker embodies a gambler, a woman (for example, in the poem “Najadė” [Naiad]) and various characters from Ancient myths (for example, in the poem “Senstantis šauklys” [Aging Herald]) as well as a carp in a supermarket tank and a worm. The book is divided into five parts. Each depicts one of the masked narrator’s roles, or at least tries to maintain a certain thematic integrity. (To be honest, I think that some poems could migrate from one part to another, but this is almost always the case with poetry collections.) Links connecting the poems of each part are easily noticeable. In addition, the book remains orderly due to the more or less equal number of poems in each part and the epigraphs before them (except the central, third part, composed of one single poem entitled “Mažuoju kovos vežimu” [By the Small Chariot of Fight]). The most crucial links throughout the book that make it a cohesive work are Eros, Thanatos, and memory—eternal topics that few books (at least poetry book) manage to escape. And Platelis, in my opinion, if we want to describe him in brief, is a poet of passion and memory in general.

Translated by Alexandra Bondarev

 

 

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