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Birth. I was born in 1987 in Panevėžys (the fifth largest Lithuanian city known in the past for its theater, industry, and organized crime, not much else). Birth befell me two weeks early, and this was the first and since then the last thing to have happened to me too early.

School. I learned everything required for the survival of a young man in Lithuania in the most athletic school of my city. Any of the skills for swimming that I previously had I lost in the school’s swimming pool. It was a shallow pool, meant for walking. Others were luckier though; the school even raised some Olympic bronze medalists in swimming.

Studies. After school, in 2007, I enrolled into a Bachelor’s history program at Vilnius University. In 2012, having defended my thesis Students of the Jesuit Academy in the Public Life of Vilnius, I became an expert at students.

During 2013–2015, I studied for a Master’s degree in religious studies in the very same Vilnius University. I defended my thesis The Hesychastic Method of Prayer: Barlaam of Calabria’s and Gregory Palamas’s Polemic and thus became… I can’t quite describe who I became in simple terms.

Poetry. I began writing poetry while still in school, out of boredom, about when I lost all of my swimming skills. I had to do something, right? My works were published in cultural journals, and I have been a participant of poetry festivals (the Poetry Spring, Druskininkai Poetic Fall) since 2005. My debut e-book The Snake of Noise was released in 2017, which was included in the top twelve listing of the most creative books for 2017 and among the top five works selected for the Poetry Book of the Year competition of 2018.

Hobbies. Catholicism (though I am no professional Catholic yet), philosophy, photography, and pornography.

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Lina Buividaviciuteby
Lina Buividavičiūtė

 

 

When I must describe the poetry of Tomas Petrulis, I am at a loss for words. Perhaps it is a symptom of having come into contact with a unique poetic logic—a poetic logic of nonsense—an “Alice’s world,” though in Petrulis’s poems the Cheshire Cat is often also accompanied by Behemoth, part of Woland’s entourage. Petrulis’s poetry is also markedly more infused with irony, desire, the body, and profane virtues. I know this: the works of this poet of the young generation are a well-cast absurd tale for adults. As I read the poems that came out after his debut e-book Triukšmo gyvatė (The Snake of Noise, published in 2017 by the digital publishing house Naujas Vardas), I see that the author has remained true to the tendencies that he had made apparent from his very first publications—to the philosophy of the body and the bodily aspects of philosophy, sharp grotesque, the attribution of meaning to nothing, and the deconstruction of various—now trivial—theories.

The most prominent features of Petrulis’s poems are the inclusions of a sacrilegious and profane study of religion—as described by the subject of these poems, a “crucified toddler with tiny balls.” Here, the relationship with a deity is almost always carnal and erotic; the usual biblical symbols of suffering incite the pornographic imagination and masochistic impulses. For example, in the poem “taikos karalienės tazeris” (“the peace queen’s taser”): “a quick zap from the peace queen / some juice to remember indulgence (Triukšmo gyvatė, p. 42). In the poem “Berniukas” (“Boy”), Christ’s hand “began to fly about the nave /  looking for clothes in which / to hide unseen whence / it would so sweetly sting” (Triukšmo gyvatė, p. 52). In the poem “labas aš ikona” (“hi i’m an icon,” Triukšmo gyvatė), the subject, while contemplating “lord jesus,” cannot help but think of a belly dance. Perhaps the highest point of Petrulis’s antireligious imagery and its parody can be seen in his post-book poem “išeities taškas” (“point of recourse”), wherein the imagination characteristic of Walpurgis Night and pornography of the body and soul intertwine, and which both realizes and satirizes the apocalypse. It proclaims the hour of the Beast—spiced with a good dash of irony—when the more hushed desires of the subjects from previous poems are finally legitimized. This poem plays with dated doctrines as well as the biggest fears and innermost desires of saints, prigs, and other subjects. The Antichrist functions here as a legal conductor at the meeting of conscious and subconscious minds: “[…] from it the antichrist leapt / and called to everyone gathered: / violate brothers and sisters fondle  each other and fuck till you can’t anymore!” (Literatūra ir menas, 2018, No. 21,  http://literaturairmenas.lt/poezija/tomas-petrulis-atsklanda).

An important aspect of Petrulis’s poems is the simulation of infantility, a kind of  deceitful naivete, seen in his style, rhythm, and rhyme. Very often the subject, while discussing complicated, awkward, sharp, or philosophical matters, adopts a superficial, infantile tone, thereby both making a parody of it and avoiding any extreme gravity or pathos. An untitled poem thus questions and ironically depicts an exorcist’s purpose of life as the subject begins to doubt Satan’s existence: “what should one do how should he live / an exorcist diligent cleric / who prays only for you / kneeling in a little dark room / how’s he to find and banish you when / he is sad at the job?” (Metai, 2019, No. 5–6, p. 38). Similarly constructed is a poem with the very accurate title of “ge(i)dulingas linksmumas”[1] (from Triukšmo gyvatė). As the subject bids us to “each take a dainty little letter from the tiny tender carcasses of parrots,” they speak of solitude and isolation, and in “paukštukas” (“birdie,” published in Metai), forms of endearment are used to shroud the dark contents of the poem.

However, ample references to the body are present not only in the religious connotations of Petrulis’s poems. Moments from daily life, initiations, borderline conditions, and even philosophical categories found in his poems are also made of “flesh and bone,” which often helps the poet develop and strengthen his poetics of nonsense. The space and the word in Petrulis’s poems have a throat, voices have holes, a balloon has flesh, light wanders around the intestines, puppies grunt, shacks are jerry-built from flesh, or “a vibrant worm splattered is singing.” To render reality in such a bizarre way, to make it so human and corporeal draws the livable world closer to the subject. And, bearing in mind that Petrulis’s poems contain many references to philosophy (and parodies of it), such a theoretical level is aptly diluted with bodily poetics. Petrulis’s subject likes to prepare—both literally and figuratively—the body, words, clichés, and meanings.

 These philosophical poems contain many instances of paradoxes and contradictory logic, upon reading which it really does seem, speaking in Petrulis’s poetic terms, that one is “tripping stars.” For example, in the poem “akiai” (“for the eye”), the subject states: “do not sleep observe the movement / turning into its opposite / when the multitude’s sure / of an endless legion of things” (Metai, 2019, No. 5–6, p. 42), while the poem “vėjas” (“wind,” from Triukšmo gyvatė), it seems, presents an irresolvable conundrum—the wind that poses as the wind in front of itself.

Petrulis’s poems contain parodies of theories, stereotypes, and even the stereotypical observances of those theories—this is especially clear in his post-book poems “reklama” (“commercial”) and “saldainis” (“candy”) published in Literatūra ir menas.

I had thought for a long time about what constitutes for me the essence of Petrulis’s poetry; what is left when all of the things I have mentioned—the bodily aspects, the parodies, the nonsense, and the visages of philosophy—wear off? When they do, within the innermost secret nucleus I see universal situations described in an original form: cosmic solitude, meanings and intentions missing each other, misunderstandings and incomprehension, disappointment. These are precisely disclosed in “meilės eilėraštis” (“a love poem”): “here two people meet for a long time / having not seen each other and fall / into each other and instantly overshoot / all their intentions and words / travel past and go by alone / passing others to the conversation’s very bottom.” And then the subject of the protagonist of the poem is left to stand by a mirror and warm themselves with the object that a person usually hides in their pants.

To conclude, the tone of expression, together with the theme and the poetic strategy of nonsense and infantility, are what constitute the originality and individuality of Petrulis’s poems. Marius Burokas fittingly describes this characteristic in his introduction to the book: “As you begin to read a poem, it looks like you begin to recognize a surrealist element. But you find that no—the poem instead concludes with an endearing, ‘Švejk-esque’ address, a profanity, or a prosaic sentence—as prosaic as a coat button. You begin to read another poem and, it seems, recognize the good old Lithuanian impressionism, but no. The text breaks off suddenly and brutally, it ends unexpectedly, or even gently flips you off. The most important in these texts are the seams, the inconsistencies, the splices and the collisions, and the boundaries. Petrulis’s poem ‘happens’ in precisely these zones.” True enough. The poet employs different techniques and narrative methods; he connects images that are seemingly inconsistent in their meaning; after a few common and (easily) comprehensible lines follows an absolute surprise, an alogical instance; the common epithets and vocabulary are substituted by imagery that offers an absurd view, for example, “pleasant abscesses,” “ringed stomach,” “yelp, o little grasshopper,” “grunting puppies,” “cough out for me a bunny of blood,” and many others.

It’s as if Petrulis’s poetry is inexhaustible, and many more things are still left untold. Having written this, I once again boldly affirm to myself that he is one of the most original and interesting of the contemporary Lithuanian poets, and one whose poems are worth having a personal relationship with.

 

1. A witty play on two words that sound alike but convey wholly different meanings. Gedulingas means “mournful,” but with the additional i the word turns into geidulingas—“lustful.” Such wordplay conveys the dichotomous relationship between grief and desire and is perhaps supplemented with the satire (or the paradox) of the other word—linksmumas (“cheerfulness”).

 

 

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

 

 

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