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Jurgita Jasponytė was born in 1981 in Zarasai. She began her studies at Vilnius Pedagogical University in 1999 and went on to receive a BA in Lithuanian philology and an MA in literature. She works as a librarian, raising her daughters Ugne and Jūre Jotvile. Her poetry collection Šaltupė (the name of a Zarasai street, meaning “cold river”) won the Lithuanian Writer’s Union First Book Contest. In 2015, she won the Zigmas Gėlė Prize for best poetic debut. Her second poetry collection Vartai Auštriejį (The Sharp Gates of Dawn) was published this year.

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Jurgita Jasponyte review 02

Jurgita Jasponytė, The Sharp Gates of Dawn, Vilnius, Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla (Lithuanian Writers Union Publishing House), 2019.

In the annotation of Jurgita Jasponytė’s second poetry book The Sharp Gates of Dawn, the book’s editor, poet Aidas Marčėnas noted that these poems are inseparable from the region where the poet was born and from the cultural memory embedded in the language of that region. The statement is meaningful yet complicated, because it implies that the poet’s work easily flows into Lithuanian lyrical traditions nourished by folklore and mythology. However, as it often happens, the relationship of J. Jasponytė’s poetry with folklore and lyricism is not conclusive. First of all because the book’s subject body and its map of consciousness are created from not only Zarasai, her birthplace in northern Lithuania, but also Vilnius, the capital city, which became her second home (“I am / a barefoot peasant girl rooted in the city,” p. 106). Thus, the poems are sustained with both cultural memory, or folklore, and the present (that of the subject and of the city). This model of the poetic world is coded within the title itself: The Sharp Gates of Dawn[1] – a reference to the contemporary Gates of Dawn in Vilnius (previously known as the Sharp Gates or Medininkai Gates), part of the city’s defence walls. The choice to join the old (Sharp) and contemporary (Dawn) names of the gates becomes a symbolic gesture, representing a harmonious correlation based in reflection between cultural memory and the present related in the poems. The concepts of groundedness, eternal change, and the correlation between the two are inseparable from the poet’s favored image of the river, which also refers to her first publication The Šaltupė River (2014)[2], which the new texts extend and support.

Despite the special significance of folklore, J. Jasponytė‘s works are far removed from the neoromantic worldview, which is based on exulting emotions, lyrical confessions, and an opposition between the aggressive, de-humanized city and a truly organic existence, which in turn is represented by nature, the openness of the country, and the naïve “little people.” Amongst the poets of this tradition, the city can only be domesticated by poetizing it, turning it into a unique watercolor or neogothic post-card, as it is done, for example, in Judita Vaičiūnaitė’s works. However, such a dissonance between the country and the city does not exist in J. Jasponytė’s new collection. The idea of a modern or post-modern fragmentation of the subject, too, is foreign in her works, as a close relationship between language and the conscious is ever present. In the poems of The Sharp Gates of Dawn, the definitions and outlines of language and experience, city and country, become irrelevant, because on the deeper level they all become one: “and this city is also my body // overlay of leaves – / through my paths / through my Sharp suburb / through the buried river / through the mountain spring / under the concrete stadium slab // all-holding beams / are deep within me” (p. 148).

The idea of close relationships between, in appearance, distant or even opposing components is actualized at both lexical and phonetical levels of the poems, through repetition of varying nature. The collection begins with the chapter “Vėlupė” – the river of spirits. The image of a river is one of the most recurring in the collection. The river symbolizes both change and stability: the waters constantly flow, but always in the same course. In the collection, the ongoing change and repetition signify the principles of human life and existence (“my hand through mother / is guided by nana’s hand” p. 39; “and every year / each time differently – in autumn - / we walk out into the rain” p. 97). This principle rules not only nature but the city as well, where the architectonics of the objects repeat the image of the river in their own way: “Two houses on the railway river – / inaccurate reflections of each / a gully and a crag, and / balance / upon leaving us / connects – / breathing in – breathing out. / While drifting.” (p. 96).

The epigraph chosen for the first chapter is a Latvian folk song. The subsequent chapters contain numerous references to sagas, myths, old songs, while the final chapter, “Saugės,” is styled from a minimalistic variation of Lithuanian multipart folk songs[3]. Here and in the texts contained within other chapters these olden songs are actualized, their meanings recurring in their own respective way (but not by imitation), their structures being recreated based on assonance, assemblage, and repetitions. Free rhyme and repetitions create the impression of a flowing river of language (freely flowing, everchanging), even though the poems are quite minimalistic not only in their lexis, but also syntax – overwrought epithets are avoided, the phrases are short, concise. In general, J. Jasponytė’s poetry is for performing, meant to be read aloud: the spoken phrases reveal connections laying deep at the phonetic level, which provide new, foundational meanings to texts that are simple only in their appearance.

The poet likes polysemic occurrences that actualize the deep interplays. For example, in the poem Šunelė. The Stream’s Shaft, a connection is made between the name of a river and an animal – a little female dog[4]. The river thus becomes alike to a beloved pet (“The Šunelė River is spilling / the child spills in handfuls – […] // from water – back to earth // where the child dug a pit / and buried his šunelė.” p. 55). The multiple meanings of reflections that exist both in nature and language are laconically highlighted in the poem Azaras. Azaras means “lake” in Selonian. Phonetically, the word is closely related to the name of Jasponytė’s native town – Zarasai, which is close to the Zarasas Lake. The town is considered to have been founded in the 16th century – until then, the territory was inhabited by Selonians. Thus, the phonetic features of the poem’s title and the story of the word’s origins become a reference to the founding story of the town as well as the geography of the region. The idea of reflections in this work is also expressed directly: “the lakes in the eye sockets of the earth / so beautifully match / nameless / clouds // so beautifully / disperse them” (p. 60).

In the chapter “Vilnius from the Sharp End,” J. Jasponytė creates a map of Naujininkai within which the city’s infrastructures (the railway, the station building), its graveyards, apartment blocks, and birthing centers coordinate organically. The city, like the human body, is understood as a viscous, constantly changing organism that has its own memory and life cycles. Thus, the relationship with city’s space is also based on correlations and reflections – the subject of the poems feels like a part of the city, while the city is anthropomorphized, has human and natural characteristics (the flow of time in the city is reminiscent of a river’s flow): “This city / his face and time / will flood / and turn these spaces / for the hundredth time into palimpsests // my thoughts / like urns opened / will carry through my body / that space” (p. 89). The city’s space is not cold, anonymous – it is full of life, unequivocally sensually experienced each time. As equal participants, people, buildings, and animals share this space (“The cloud / church steeple / wires / ferret running across the road, its / rustling silence / the city slows down / and falls asleep” (p. 100). The city’s spaces are distributed according to the logic of mythological spaces – the birthing center and the graveyard on the hill are only separated by double-leaf gates: “by the birthing center and the graveyard / on Liepkalnis Hills – […] // the spring of life / will pour out unwillingly / and the river of life will flow / to the death / with graves being born / on the other side of the fence / through the gates will flow – / they are alone there for this / but two-sided / double-leaf.” (p. 104).

Even though many bodily experiences, especially those related to birth and death, are particularly important in J. Jasponytė’s poetry (“And there is no other mythology / like the very first being / steaming body / warmth / womb,” p. 136), the main property of the body, also related to the previously mentioned archetypal image of the river, is the constant state of change, or more precisely – transiency. Any separate body and even the subject itself are understood as a greater part of a whole: “I am but a wire / for the current to pass / of life.” (p. 124). On the one hand, this concept helps to avoid a narrow perspective based upon subjective experiences and personal traumas. On the other hand, the holistic view in J. Jasponytė’s poetry is sometimes declared to be “the right way,” an unchallenged aim, while the subject of the poem takes up the role of a teacher. Because of such blunt didacticism, guidelines on how to live “according to the rhythm of the universe” cannot be avoided: “While you don’t thank / the world within you does not expand / while you don’t thank / the rhythm of the universe is perturbed” (p. 31). Yet even lessons of this nature become suggestive when their expression is authentic, permeating all layers of the text. For example, in the poem Shining, the idea of becoming open to the world is expressed directly, using folklore motifs as well as through alliteration. The repetition of consonants š-ž-s-z not only brings the words more removed in the text closer[5], but also develops their meaning affiliations and raises the impression of danger and stress, which, at the end of the poem, are eliminated by revealing the archetypal nature of the threatening images and premonitions: “while the wolf’s jaws are opening – / at the back of the mouth / a stopper of light caught shines / until my lips open / now all all / that I believe / that I love / that I fear to speak / the howling will erupt / toward the lure of a new moon / the teeth like little combs glow / I snuggle embrace myself and / see / that the gates are open / like a ripped wound […] // I fear not / in the lure of the moon the teeth of fear / like little combs. Shine.” (p. 138–139).

 

1. The title of the book – Auštrieji vartai – is an amalgam of two words, two different names given to the same structure: Aštrieji vartai (“The Sharp Gates,” with the Lithuanian word aštrus meaning “sharp”) and Aušros vartai (“The Gates of Dawn,” with the word aušra meaning “dawn”). The u in A(u)štrieji establishes a semantic and phonetic connection between the two names.
2. Šaltupė – literally a “cold river.” The word also happens to be the name of a street in Zarasai.
3. Sutartinės or Saugės is an ancient form of polyphony originating from before the introduction of Christianity in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Multipart Songs were included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010.
4. Šunelė, the name of a river in Lithuania, can also be used as a diminutive word to refer to a female dog.
5. Graphemes š and ž represent sounds sh and zh, respectively.

 

Translated by Skirmantė Gough

Poetry excerpts translated by Skirmantė Gough, edited by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

 

 

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