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Neringa Butnoriūtė

by
Neringa Butnoriūtė

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

The three authors discussed in this review can hardly be introduced as young or debut writers: Mindaugas Kirka, Solveiga Masteikaitė, and Ramūnas Liutkevičius were well-known in artist circles before they had published any poetry books. These three poetry debuts are a hopeful gesture, as more artists who do not belong to the “young artist group” (35 years or younger) are becoming prominent in Lithuanian poetry.

Last year’s trends were mostly moderate. The literary debuts of 2021 tell us that the role of the charismatic author is becoming more prominent. The poems have a strong focus on expressing the author’s worldview and thought process but are not necessarily bold or experimental. The variety of meaning has been limited, while the themes common to all these books can be summarized thusly: long live sensitivity, and long live attempts to reach for the light.

 

Mindaugas Kirka. Dangus užsitraukia ledu [Sky Covered in Ice].– Vilnius: Lithuanian Writers’ Union Publishing House, 2021. – 80 p.

The work of Mindaugas Kirka appears exceptionally moderate in the context of today’s poetry. Kirka, who has been a participant of Lithuanian poetry festivals for some ten years, recently came out of a short hiatus and won the First Book Contest organized by the Lithuanian Writers’ Union. This is an important achievement, as the winner is selected by a committee consisting of well-known poets; some level of prestige and promise is expected.

Kirka’s book Dangus užsitraukia ledu reflects the trends of the past decade in Lithuanian poetry. This was a time of popularity for poetocentric poetry, which offers concise examinations of metaphysical, philosophical, and religious questions yet does not necessarily provide the answers to them. This concept influences authors’ relationship to language and daily phenomena, while the power of such poetry is partly derived from the credibility of the poet-speaker (e.g., Aidas Marčėnas, Donaldas Kajokas, or Rimvydas Stankevičius). Literary scholars have ascribed a very high status to this form of poetry for quite some time. It comes as no surprise, then, that the younger generation of poets also attempted, at least in their first books, to romanticize suffering and temporality, to turn their experiences into pretty literary universalities (and thus display their erudition), and to describe living in paradoxical terms (Kirka offers the parallel of love and illness), pivoting between daily revelation and self-deprecation.

Kirka’s poetry is characterized by its modest Christian introspection. The subject is clearly aware that they do not conform to the likeness of a human made in God’s image. Yet the subject does not relinquish the ambitions of a failed prophet either; for this reason, the human condition itself appears as full of conflict in these poems. In his attempt to reveal this, Kirka relies on juggling biblical paraphrasing and clichés present in daily speech to give us what could be described as an autoironic reflection of a Christian: “I believe this is the end now / wake me up with a fist to the face / let’s go it’s time / it’s Easter” (p. 50). A heavily fortified poetic “I” is essentially at the center of Kirka’s poetry, although the subject is often viewed in third person or through others (a dissected frog or the eyes of a lover) in an attempt to find balance between rationale and sensitivity (“I could say why / […] / But silence / Still would not understand it,” p. 72). Such careful balancing, in my opinion, is the result of Kirka’s attempts to write in a “literary” way: the described sins are polite (never exiting the confines of the subject’s imagination), while many of the situations are simply abstract (“The soil here is good for nothing / No garden or god here / Nothing fit for salvation,” p. 15). Thus, the sharp tip of dramatism of these texts has been dulled to a point of a light scratch.

To me, the most moving poems by Kirka were not the pieces that openly showed the complexities of living with faith, but where the subject’s faith becomes the axis of the poems. The clearest examples are scenic pieces: “Rise my sun / Above the treeline and pain / By stabbing your oar into the current / Transform the cold into the light” (p. 66). Compared to the poems that portray the pursuit of God, these works emphasize a non-combative and non-egocentric style of speech: “a small branch still swaying in motion / the fear of a bird” (p. 68). Therefore, even though Dangus užsitraukia ledu remains trapped in tradition, still it is a book that voices a particularly sensitive perspective.

 

Solveiga Masteikaitė. Pietūs vidury niekur [Lunch in the Middle of Nowhere]. – Vilnius: Versus, 2021. – 152 p. Illustrated by Ina Budrytė.

“Untamed little animals” is what I would use to describe the poems by film director and writer Solveiga Masteikaitė. I have reason to expect she would take my choice of words as a compliment. Her relationship to people and the world is marked by playfulness:  “It’s Sunday again. Off to church, off to space, all of you!” (p. 50), “There is only the fox on the ice only the ice under the fox” (p. 60). Masteikaitė’s first poetry book Pietūs vidury niekur is even designed in such a way as to slightly interfere with the reading process, with pairs of letters written in cursive in these texts. Such a formal excess corresponds to the general style of Masteikaitė’s work, which emphasizes the value of imperfection in art. This can be seen in the writing, where reality feels like a state of weightlessness overcome by cheerful nonsense. The aim of this tone rests on classical enlightenment: “to return to ourselves, / from the sensation of objects to the sensation of being itself, to our hearts” (p. 58).

The book Pietūs vidury niekur is unique for its positive tone, emotional level of speech, and lack of ambition to relay wisdom to the reader. It also has one particular trait that is rarely encountered in Lithuanian poetry, and that is honesty. This honesty comes from the rarely used prototype of the artist, a somewhat “crazy” person, one slightly disassociated from reality and fascinated by the fringes of society, childlike behavior, or cute curios (paper puncher holes, belly buttons, a beggar, an exotic beaver). Using this prototype, the author draws the reader into an orbit of pleasant and hopeful passages, feelings, comedic pursuits of love, and attempts to redefine the laws of logic. Since the author is already a mature one, the infantility the writing in her poetry debut appears more as a motherly and consciously adopted tone rather than an expression of naivete. Masteikaitė’s most interesting poems offer a surprising context for the daily situations in our life: “what’s on the schedule today, god / […] / then sometimes, god / you don’t look the right way through me / you don’t speak the right way through me / […] / if you give me one more day of spring / I will teach you everything” (p. 42). In some texts, the surprising conclusion comes from imagery that provokes the power of imagination. Masteikaitė’s Pietūs vidury niekur can be considered a book that is easy to read as well as one that implies how healthy it is for us to rely on our imaginations every once in a while.

 

Ramūnas Liutkevičius. Šokis įsuka šviesą [The Dance Turns in the Light]. – Vilnius: Bazilisko ambasada, 2021. – 104 p.

Ramūnas Liutkevičius’s poetry has been informed by the underground reading scene (jam and slam sessions) and its trends. These evenings can be credited as the birthplace of Lithuanian artistic confessional poetry that deals with themes of addiction, emotional health, and sexuality. Real experience, expressed in a fittingly informal tone, and the here-and-now act of reading on the stage are much more intriguing than the “dead” conventions of a literary genre, since conventions are instead created right here and at the behest of the poet. Liutkevičius: “it is not my concern / that donelaitis / wrote in hexameter” (p. 62). Similar statements have become more numerous in Lithuanian poetry over the past years and have come to signify how instances of personal failure can become a learning experience for others. Given this, Liutkevičius’s work is unique in the perspective that it offers and the fact that the author is not only published now but also a spoken word artist.

Šokis įsuka šviesą is a difficult, confessional book of poetry. Liutkevičius’s voice is one rarely seen in Lithuanian poetry, which is the voice of an outcast, an individual from the fringes of society. The subject is traumatized by their life yet is open to culture; the outcast is not a rebel and puts no demands on society, since they ascribe no role to themselves and avoid conformity or messianism (“my name is ramūnas, i roam the mazes of the old city looking for an emergency exit in life”). Liutkevičius’s work derives its power not from its portrayals of a traumatic biography (which are sporadic) but from its perspective of having lived through the trauma and the experience that such survival brings with it. The poems read like an unceasing hallucinatory experience, where all banal conversations lead to destruction, generally accepted rules are treated as censorship and oppression, and smiling is a form of aggression.

The most interesting conclusions that we can derive from Liutkevičius’s poems come from the situational context they take place in. These are portrayals of strife, dishonesty, and cruelty, while the city of Vilnius, so often painted in legendary colors, becomes a physically and morally reclusive place. This portrayal fittingly corresponds to the repertoire of poems in the book, which consists of poems and other types of pieces, usually diaristic dialogues with various individuals that give more depth to the book by adding a dimension of the societal absurd. Technically, Liutkevičius’s poetry is monotonic, especially reminiscent of the usual scheme found in slam poetry evenings, where narration is based on reiteration. The essential motifs of rejecting survival and escaping a traumatic past are also present.

In Liutkevičius’s poetry, culture is both a source of light and a pillar of support for the subject. Liutkevičius also employs a panacea used by other Lithuanian authors – a strong inclination to weave metaphors and hyperbolize an object until what’s left of it is only an emotional trace: “A carp’s head near the front door / is counting how much time we have left / of December” (p. 13). Thus Liutkevičius “turns in the light”: the closer the end of the book, the more realistic the pieces get, and the less the reader sees any attempt to inhibit dramatism by the use of spectacular similes. Such a blend of traditional poetic expression, straightforwardness, lyricism, and slam poetry is what gives Liutkevičius’s poetry its character and the light that powerfully emanates through the gaps in destruction. I wouldn’t call Šokis įsuka šviesą an especially rebellious or consciously nonconformist book, but I concur that it gives us a new voice in Lithuanian confessional poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

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