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Rima Juškūnė (b. 1979) is a poet and author of two books, Irisai (“Irises”) (2015, published by Kauko laiptai) and Perikonas (“Pericón”) (2018, published by Kauko laiptai). Having graduated from Vilkija Secondary School, she got her BA in Lithuanian Philology in 2003 at the Kaunas Faculty of Humanities of Vilnius University and graduated from Atviros visuomenės kolegija (Open Community College). Later, Juškūnė studied at Aalborg University in Denmark, where she graduated with a BA in Danish Philology and Humanistic Informatics in 2011 and later received a Master’s degree in Information Technology and Interactive Digital Media in 2014. For a long time, she worked as a digital media and communications designer as well as a translator. Currently, Juškūnė is doing a PhD at the Scandinavian Studies Department of Vilnius University, basing her research on short multimodal and heteromedial Danish literature forms. She spends most of her time in Aalborg, is married, and has three children.

Juškūnė’s texts are filled with a perception of the body as an inevitable condition for human existence. The body becomes the center of the lyrical subject, through which and within which its particular experiences arise, such as desire, pain, illness, death, sensations of time and space, etc. The topographic poetic map that she draws is spread between Lithuania, Greenland, Norway, and Denmark.

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Rima Juskune review 02

The gently erotic poems of Denmark-based poet Rima Juškūnė are deceitful. Having chosen the iris as the most distinctive element of her debut book, she was tempting the readers to recall the sweet, sticky childhood candy[1] and the careless symbolism of the woman as a flower. Yes, Juškūnė’s poetry may be called sensuous. It misleads those, however, who expect poetry to be traditionally lyrical.

Juškūnė’s poems fit comfortably within the new wave of Lithuanian female poetry. Together with poets Vitalija Pilipauskaitė-Butkienė and Lina Buividavičiūtė, her debut coincided with the rise of a culture of empathy in the digital space and showed that for a woman to speak about herself in a non-conservative way – not as a muse or as somebody’s lover – is, in fact, possible. This mode of speech was influenced by the perception and depiction of a woman previously considered taboo. The texts of Juškūnė, Pilipauskaitė-Butkienė, and Buividavičiūtė revealed that such a discourse is not capable of unravelling the figure of a contemporary woman. A much more open and drastic voice – a woman speaking herself, crucially – made it possible to engage in provocative subjects that would stir up and have a therapeutic effect on society, while bodily experiences were used as the main weapon: a natural, life-inducing desire, the act of giving birth, the act of sexual violence. By demonstrating the body’s physiology, the three poets reflected on the social and cultural roles attributed to women and removed the veil from the so-called “secret of life.”

Juškūnė stood out from the other two poets with her most aestheticized view on the tradition of female depiction.
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Juškūnė’s Irisai (“Irises”) (2015) instantly revealed one of the most important characteristics of the new wave of Lithuanian female poetry: intimacy becoming public. The natural need for human and spiritual connection found in her texts emphasizes, traditionally, the sexuality of the body, the act of coming together, parenthood, and dialogues with God. However, Juškūnė discusses this by turning the body into a tool of cognition, and the poet draws unexpected analogies between different spheres: physiology and botany, physiology and linguistics, physiology and architecture, etc. Thus, new meanings appear: for example, landscapes become analogues of the body, or the human physical structure assimilates with that of a plant.

An unexpected, complex, and multi-componential image is more important to Juškūnė than personal identity, its politically correct treatment, or merely gender-based speech. Such an outlook enables an open perspective of reading that is so characteristic of this new poetic wave. The aim of demonstrating the body this way is not to excite or impact emotionally but to liberate it from imprisoning vulgarity and shame (especially when written by a woman). Neither usual desire nor love are preserved in this poetry: the depicted body shifts away from lyrical tradition in general. Intimacy here doesn’t denude; on the contrary – it covers up, it is flexible and impersonal and thus creates an interesting effect: it is not the author who speaks through the text, and not you, the reader, but it is everything written that speaks of us.

This sheds light on another strength of Irisai – a tactile language that draws attention to the importance of state and experience. The thick texts of Juškūnė turn reading into a physiological act: they inundate the reader with a living stream of language, suck them into the core of a sensation with a single breath, and use the tongue (the words) to penetrate the capillaries through the pores. Her tender, erotic way of speaking is positive; it playfully states aliveness, prosperity, and the act of sharing. And in this way, it becomes a self-justified event, confirming that poetry can be read for the sheer pleasure of feeling alive without primitivizing this pleasure with erotic intentions.
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The book Perikonas (“Pericón”) (2018) maintains the aforementioned features but is more direct to demonstrate how the body motif is transferred from private space to the fabric of society. Seeking to reveal this in her new book, Juškūnė recurs to her life experiences as a mother, a daughter, and an emigrant. The “herbal” title adds another, psychological shade: the extract of St. John’s wort mentioned in the book is supposed to soothe depressive moods. This new meaning also determines the atmosphere of the texts. The spiritual state depends not only on the acquired life experiences but also on the vulnerability of an aging body; thus, the vitality of the previous poems is replaced with anxiety and the feeling of ephemerality.

The reality of a socially “charged” poetic text becomes multilateral. The semantic links, usual in Juškūnė’s poetry, are complemented with additional nuances: speech registers become more various (fairy tales vs. folklore vs. social networks), a single poem can consist of several different plots, etc. For example, in the poem Dangaus ir žemės kūnai (“Celestial And Terrestrial Bodies”), Juškūnė conveys a recognizable experience (a daughter bathing her elderly mother) but manages to stay impersonal, as the situation itself is rather intimate. The text consists of several lines: blood relations and inheritance are defined in biological terms; experience – by listing body defects; the relationships with the Father and the Mother – based on the roles that were traditionally attributed to the two genders in folkloric plots and world history. These roles form identity and dissolve in the Lithuanian language; in this way, the instructing, rational tone of the father (contemporariness) competes with the natural, feminine structures (archaicity).

Juškūnė’s thick language is affected by the changes that many spheres have gone through: the geographies of Europe overlap with the body, while its status is replaced by digitalization, and its mobility is impacted by low-cost flights and economic reasons. The poetic persona speaks not only as a Lithuanian woman but also as a part of the global world – a member of a multilingual space, a participant in social networks, a mother bilingually teaching her children. Thus, the ironic and socially-engaged poems reveal a different role played by the poet. When ironizing, Juškūnė doesn’t put herself above the objects of her poignant critique, piercing them with accuracy and letting herself be caught in the same process. And this testifies to the most crucial feature of the new wave: this corporeal poetry is waiting for an empathetic response.

1. Translator’s note: the author refers to Irisas (“Iris”), a classic toffee candy brand.

 

 

Translated by Alexandra Bondarev

 

 

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