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Mindaugas Nastaravičius (Lithuania)
Poet, playwright, and journalist Mindaugas Nastaravičius was born in Vilnius District Municipality in 1984. He graduated from Vilnius University with a degree in journalism in 2006 and studied philosophy during 2008–2010. In 2010, Nastaravičius won the First Book Competition organized by the Lithuanian Writers’ Union and subsequently published a collection of poems under the title Dėmėtų akių (“Stained Eyes”). This book received the Zigmas Gėlė prize for the best literary debut of the year. In 2014, he published his second poetry book Mo. The book was deemed by literature experts to be in the “top 5 poetry books of the year.” It was also listed as one of the “12 most creative books of the year” by the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore. In 2014, this work was also awarded the Young Yotvingian Prize of 2015. Mindaugas also works with four Lithuanian theaters that have staged four of his plays, Paukštyno bendrabutis (“The Dormitory of Poultry-Farm,” 2012, directed by V. Masalskis, Klaipėda Youth Theater), Kita mokykla (“The Other School,” 2013, directed by V. Masalskis, Klaipeda Youth Theater), Demokratija (“Democracy,” 2014, directed by P. Ignatavičius, the Lithuanian National Drama Theater), and Man netinka tavo kostiumas (“Your Suit Does Not Fit Me,” 2014, directed by V. Masalskis, Klaipeda Youth Theater). For the two latter plays, Mindaugas Nastaravičius received the Golden Stage Cross – the most prestigious Lithuanian theater prize – in 2015.

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Mindaugas Nastaravicius review 02

There is this saying that’s been long used among acclaimed Lithuanian poets: a poet’s talent can be recognized from a single poem. And now Mindaugas Nastaravičius – a poet, playwright, and journalist – has written a book that only consists of a single one. Bendratis (“Common Wheel”) may seem a little pretentious at first, yet this expectation fades in light of the book’s simplicity: this white, sewn-spine paperback has no protective covering, is easily stainable and has a red sheet attached to it, reminiscent of the tracing paper used in childhood, or perhaps blotting paper. This simplicity is not only casual and tasteful; it eliminates any signs of the “weather describer” status, revealing the purest possible reading process. And perhaps it is true – Bendratis has won a prize in the Lithuanian Book Art contest and received the Jurga Ivanauskaitė literary award.

Having published three poetry books, Nastaravičius is a slow writer. What he writes are not typical poems, but rather texts about everyday life reminiscent of fragmental storytelling, entertaining the attendees of poetic readings with childish absurdities or, on the contrary, saddening them, as the poet is again writing about death. These “stories” are simple and attractive: they’re realistic, as if not about ideas, but about us, the author’s childhood neighborhood buddies, his sons/daughters and loved ones.

However, describing what Nastaravičius’s Bendratis is exactly about is both simple and difficult. Simple, as the plot of the book can be easily retold: a son taking care of his dying father; they weren’t very close; he’s spending time with his mother, remembers his childhood spent in the countryside, tries to understand himself in that setting, travels to the sea to write about it, has a son born to him. And, at the same time, it is difficult – as the book has this key subheading: it is “a story of one poem.” The implicit author seems to be trying to write about the subject that he tackled in his previous book Mo (2014) – his father – but what really concerns him is the one great question: what is this poetry thing, after all? So Bendratis also encompasses the whole that surrounds the poem and the process of its birth. What is special about this book is that Nastaravičius does not try to demonstrate a supposed knowledge of everything; he doesn’t need any additional pillars to lean on (such as repeating everything he’s learned from the books he’s read). The answer to that one great question should be looked for, as he suggests, by employing one’s own memory and experience.

Poetry to Nastaravičius is not an art form that can be taken for granted – instead, similarly to how Paul Celan described it, it is a long journey through a poem. And in order to take it together, we must start a dialogue. In Bendratis, this dialogue emerges from borderline experiences – losing one’s father and becoming one; in other words, from confrontations that allow seeing your close ones not as people, but as gods. During this journey around Bendratis,[1] the author returns to painful subjects (loss, a distant father-son relationship, growth, etc.), shakes up the array of emotional memory, and submerges himself in dreams while trying to live on (he focuses on his son’s birth). The father and the son are precisely what the aforementioned whole consists of – the whole that constitutes a poem yet isn’t always made public. Nastaravičius copes with these matters by creating a memory-governed distance in each of his “stories,” changing positions (“me and my father,” “me in the place of my father,” “I am a father”), alluding to the human imperfections and the painfulness of all possible relations and, finally, quieting down each time. And all this happens while attempting to make a poem that speaks about something become, almost imperceptibly, a text written out of something – something that goes beyond personal concerns. In my opinion, this attempt is what’s exciting and ambitious about the book. Within the schematization of all modern poetry, within its meticulously thought-out theses, constantly recreated tropes, and exposed traumas, this slow, almost meditative wandering through a text with no aim of grasping everything at once, in which the poet just quietly demarcates all the crucial moments in his life – this wandering feels universal, deceitfully honest, and highly impactful.

Memory in Bendratis is invoked in order to create patterns reconciling language and the world. It operates so that not being could become being, and that you could understand yourself in that process. The concept of an “infinitive” inscribed in the title is another subtle hint toward this direction: the timeless, unconjugated verbal form calls for change, reviving you from a torpid, lifeless state. And then, it unexpectedly turns into a neologism, “bendratis” (a “common wheel”). Paradoxically, this is how one starts speaking of life and light – through loss. And perhaps this is also why it is not enough for Nastaravičius to write only about his father.

Surprisingly, Nastaravičius is not trying to devise new forms or make this world more beautiful in his poetry; instead, he offers a totally clean text, in which colloquial language has more potency than any metaphor. This language can seem rough and straightforward, but Nastaravičius gives it the power of revealing significant undertones and telling more than just the everyday meanings of the words suggest. Conveying these nuances was quite a challenge to the translator; thus, this grammatical feature specific to the Lithuanian language will probably be best felt by its native speakers. However, the texts published in Vilnius Review will allow you to associate the semantic motifs from these fragmental everyday “stories” with yourself. The “miracle” of Nastaravičius’s poetry is born in the gripping textual sequences and unexpected parallels that testify to the following: in this tiny, most readable “infinitive form,” nothing is random.

 

1. Translator’s note: there is wordplay in the title – bendratis can mean both “the infinitive form of a verb” and “the common wheel” (bendras, “common” + ratas, “wheel”).

 

 

 

 

Translated by Alexandra Bondarev

 

 

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