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Ernestas Noreika was born in 1989 in Kaunas. He studied Lithuanian philology in Lithuanian Educology university. His first poetry book Lake of Peacocks (2012) won the Zigmas Gėlė-Gaidamavičius prize for best poetry debut. His second poetry book Andalusian Dog was published in 2016. His third poetry book Apollo (2019) won a prestigious Yooung Yotvingian award. Ernestas Noreika is also a well-known rap and hip-hop singer (his scenic name is Beeta). He is the author of two albums – Twin Peaks (2014) and Kūlgrinda (2017).

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Graphic Novels

Giedre Kazlauskaiteby
Giedrė Kazlauskaitė

 

 

Ernestas Noreika Apollo.  The Lithuanian Writers Union Publishing House, Vilnius: 2019.

Ernestas Noreika review 02I recently came across a press release stating that “this year, the contemporary music festival Gaida will host a unique show commemorating the 50th anniversary of the launch of the legendary US spaceship Apollo and its moon landing. The song ‘Apollo’ by the legendary music producer and composer Brian Eno will be played live in Lithuania for the first time by the famous British group Icebreaker together with the legendary rock guitarist BJ Cole (steel guitar).” Oh wow, I thought, so that is why Ernestas Noreika chose to publish his poetry book this year! Like the association-obsessed manic philologist that I am, I tried to determine whether the title is linked in any way to the Greek god Apollo, and to establish something which is not there, but it seems that things are far simpler. The title Apollo is a clear hint toward the space mission, yet the book contains no Stanley Kubrick imagery. Similarly, it contains no direct idolization of outer space, unless we concede the latter exists within the individual. In Kubrick’s movie, the computer HAL9000 calmly recites scathing phrases – Noreika’s poems contain elements of refrain as well, albeit of a different kind.

Noreika (born 1989) is known to the Lithuanian reader as an author of three poetry books, while a wider audience will recognize him as the hip-hop artist Beeta. Only now do I see the clear differences between the language in his poems and songs – his poetry contains no usage of slang. His previous books are marked by a sympathy for the surreal (Apollo contains traces of it as well), the oneiric, and the decadent. Previous verses were dominated by natural imagery and allusions to cinematography, while in Apollo, the author surprises readers by including in his verses non-European civilizations, e.g., attributes of Native American culture. This serves greatly in widening the poetic worldview. One only needs to bring to mind the macabre imagery of the Mayas or the Aztecs and the sugar skulls of Mexico for the poem “the house with the green Native American crest” (p. 11) to acquire a global dimension. In other words, the author does not only ascend toward outer space, but also goes forth and beyond his native continent (perhaps an even harder task, as one must have a good grasp of these foreign cultures). The poem about the Native American woman, who we see frisked, most probably, at some European airport, testifies to this:

a native woman is frisked at the airport
they’re searching her suitcase […]

you’re not allowed, they tell her,
to take a bonfire on board […]

her suitcase is full
of knives and wild steeds […]

bison jerky
wrapped in its own cured skin

this meat no longer remembers
how it was a whole body once

I can’t remember myself either
as a whole body

I am wrapped
in the rags of my own skin
with decorations made of
screaming little bones […]

the native woman performs a dance of darkness
and the planes don’t take off
her name is linked to deer
she sheds antlers

she pours airplane wings
into bottles of fog
she provides protection
from the deadly machine guns
of birds

the native woman is waving to me
on a black steed of rain

she races across a runway
that is knitted with needles of rain

she grasps the feverish
rays of inner compasses

whose coordinates bear no offspring […]

native woman, p. 41–43

A powerful poetic imagination, alogical connections, and surrealism: the verses contain many participial constructions; all the poems are long and “thick” with images, while mistakes are scarce (an unnecessary stanza is added here or there that I would cross out as excessive). It is no paradox that the way images are propped up near one another is at times reminiscent of the poetic manner of Rolandas Rastauskas, the book’s editor. The titles of many poems are linked to borderline, dangerous situations, or at least hint at military themes: “crater,” “mined,” “reconnaissance,” “constrictors,” “snipers,” “submarine,” “teleportation,” “burns,” “playing with fire,” “killing softly” (perhaps the influence of Bruno K. Öijer). I am no military expert, but it seems that Beeta, too, balances on the edge of soft militarism (e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo55xeOGl60).

The repetitions of lines or phrases sometimes resemble the refrains of rapping: e.g., “you are a plant” (“plant,” p. 77). I suppose these are involuntary and unintentional, as the text is quite divorced from rap simplifications meant for the “simple man.” The dependency on high culture is also signified by Deimantė Rybakovienė’s meticulous book design. The poem “hubble” (p. 57) begins with an epigraph from a children’s poem written by Justinas Marcinkevičius: “I dreamt and I dreamt, to the moon that I went.” Several generations remember these lines from textbooks and associate them with the Cold War and the Space Race. The stanzas of “hubble,” which could be construed as one long poem (however, the whole book may be construed as a single poem if one so wishes), are marked by a frenetic energy, akin to the blast of an atomic bomb set off by peculiar punctuation and extraordinary brackets (<> <>). The metaphor of death as the getting through to the other side of the river is acoustically compared to getting up in the morning.

In his conversation with Monika Bertašiūtė, Noreika himself explains the book’s structure (the content is separated into parts numbered from 10 to 0): “‘Apollo’ is a rocket, a flight to the undiscovered side of the moon, while the reverse numbering is the time left until liftoff” (https://www.15min.lt/kultura/naujiena/literatura/jaunasis-jotvingis-e-noreika-apie-knyga-apollo-nepritempineju-poezijos-prie-inovaciju-286-1212372). In that same interview, he speaks not as a poet, but as a rapper, and he tries to construct a “homie” image for himself. He lies a little, too: “I am quite apolitical and I consciously try to distance myself from all this crap. I’m not interested in it and I am not someone who can change these things. Sure, I observe, I have my own opinions on one thing or another, but I don’t wish to publicly state them. There are political experts for that, and they have a way of viewing these things. It’s generally foolish to expect a person who is involved in creating something to be good across many fields. As if a poet is supposed to have a favorite painter, to have listened through all the classical discographies, and be an active participant in politics to boot.” The lack of pretentiousness is charming in the way that the poet-rapper constructs this illusion of a socially conscious individual for whom a partition between high and popular culture does not exist. Yet this partition (in the form of a clear difference between the language used in his books and his songs) does exist, which means that the political and aesthetical naïveté is fake. One begins to doubt the authenticity of the inner conflict when the author easily code-switches between high culture and street language: in other words, he chooses to render unto rap what belongs to rap, and unto books what is theirs.

Noreika’s book is a proper example of when an author, utilizing some inner resources unpredictable even to himself, suddenly crosses a threshold and begins to write completely differently from how he did before. This is rare – poets usually like to reproduce and republish themselves till the ends of their days. But where will one go – when one has already left the continent, not to mention earth’s orbit?… The depths of the oceans, perhaps.

 

 

 

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

 

 

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