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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Photo by Dainius Dirgėla

Interview by Saulius Vasiliauskas

You begin your new poetry collection Štai (There) with the text: “I’m only / Scared of speed / The other / You / Does not scare me.” You finish it with a similar one, only that it’s stated in two lines: “Only speed scares me / I’m not scared of the other you.” Can we say that this book-framing motif is a key for the reader, a suggested direction in which the poems should be interpreted?

No, I really do not suggest anything to anyone by either of the poems and give out no keys. Ah, here’s a key for these first lines—it’s a poem-prayer. Once, people used phrases such as “fear of God,” “living in fear of God,” “God-fearing.” I’m not a fan of the concept of the fear of God; I’d rather have God’s love than fear him. But I’m afraid of speed—the speed of the world, the speed of time. Because I don’t want it all to be—pop—over. For I like being here. I like living, enjoying life, tasting the world from every side, to smell, to touch, to listen. But speed, the speed of the passing world is frightening. It’s scary to me because, as poet Henrikas Algis Čigriejus put it, “I don’t fear death, but I don’t want it terribly—rather another time, rather another day.”

Perhaps this is the key if we think of such a prayer: all these poems are various tastings, hearsay, touches and the imprints of these touches.

The last poem of the book is the situation that inspired the first one: my husband is a terribly fast driver, and I get scared when he goes over the speed limit. I don’t look at the landscape that passes by, I look at the speedometer, and I keep saying: “I’m scared, please slow down.” Then one time as we drove I realized that I wish for a whole life with him, but slower. Slower, further, more! And because it’s not possible to ask for it to never end, I ask for the end to be put off until the furthest of the ends. :)

Zagrakalyte interview 00Giedrė Kazlauskaitė, TetrisSometimes, your poems are, let’s say, interrupted by autobiographical elements of routine and family life. The poetry obtains qualities of diary writing, for example: “ah, the children are fuming, gotta go, I’ll finish telling it / another time” (Claudio Bottega, p. 33). How is your creative work affected by domestic chores or the family household? Do they distract you, irritate you, or provide your creativity with new stimuli and ideas?

I’ve never had a study, (yes, never, not even in childhood, haha). Most of my scribbles were written in a space which is a kitchen-laundry-dining room with a computer for a television set, a sofa on which children heap their toys, dogs their bones, men their books and newspapers. Nobody cares if you’re distracted, irritated, or stimulated. If you want to, you’ll write hanging from the ceiling, rocking a baby carriage with one foot, stroking a dog with the other, and stirring a pot on top of that. And if you don’t want to, you won’t squeeze anything out even in the quietest, lushest of libraries. Domestic, undomestic, creativity—all of this is merely one huge buzzing lump of life, and as I said before, I like living very, very much, amen.

In her review of the collection, Elžbieta Banytė claimed: “Sometimes, it almost seems like there's too much of the personal, and you get the unpleasant feeling of intruding upon the life of someone you don't know but who is nonetheless very close and understandable to you. Sometimes, in a very direct sense, you may even find yourself digging through their underwear.”[1] I’d like to ask about openness as well as personalism in literature and its boundaries. Is there anything that you have decided not to share, even through literary means?

I have decided not to share anything about myself. I’m not interested in me.

During a literary evening of the Santaros-Šviesos congress this year, Undinė Radzevičiūtė asked Rein Raud if he’s ever worried that, were someone to steal a manuscript of his new book and publish it as their own, he wouldn’t be able to prove authorship. Everyone one of Raud’s books, after all, is written in different style. As I was reading your novel Eigulio duktė: byla F-117 (Forester’s Daughter: Case F-117), I remember I didn’t really associate it with “Agnė Žagrakalytė” whom I was better acquainted with through poems. To what extent, I wonder, are readers inclined to label writers according to their style and to keep them within certain bounds, including their expectations for future books (and if it might affect the author’s creative choices)? Roland Barthes, for instance, declared in one of his early works, Writing Degree Zero, that “A language is therefore on the hither side of Literature. Style is almost beyond it: imagery, delivery, vocabulary spring from the body and the past of the writer and gradually become the very reflexes of his art […] Style is never anything but metaphor, that is, equivalence of the author's literary intention and carnal structure.”[2] How would you reflect on the topic of the style of fiction: would you hold onto the concept of style as an embodied phenomenon (deriving from the writer’s temperament, worldview, personal growth and experiences of upbringing) or would you think, for example, that style, just as everything else in fiction, can be contrived (constructed, imitated, forged, “played”?), that it’s shaped independently over every creative process?

Constructed, imitated, forged, played. I don’t even have an actual style of handwriting. I write by hand into notebooks, and at times, the handwriting is different even when it’s on the same page. Little round erect letters, thin long slanting loops, immense bulky ones, miniature squiggles, calligraphy graceful enough to make you cry, beautiful to the extent of making you unable to read it – if I had to choose a style, I’d choose a factory of them.

In response to questions asked by Jurga Tumasonytė, you mentioned that many of the older poems published in the book were rewritten in practically one day last year. How did they change by comparison to the original ones? What do you focus on when editing the poems?

There haven’t been many changes, really. I added a word here, a comma there. In the poem Žodininkė (The Wordmaker), I replaced the word “jopšikmat” [a Russian swear word – TN] with the word “ne-si-keikt” (“must-not-swear”), and I put piles of colons everywhere. When editing poems, it’s important to me that they have the right sound, an inner rhythm, and, of course, that the line fits onto the page,  but if the format of the book is a narrow one, you can’t always manage it.

When talking about contemporary poetry and prose, we often hear minor tones from the authors of the older generation. For instance, the writer Grigorijus Kanovičius claims in a recent interview that the literature “that is now being written and published by publishing houses grows weaker every year.”[3] On the one hand, this statement could signify a natural conflict of generations and points of view—a classic fight over what defines good literature and the wish to preserve the established one, which is typical of the old-timers of the field. On the other hand, perhaps such pessimistic testimonies are well grounded?

I better not be addressed with pessimistic queries.

In the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by the psychologist Angela Duckworth, which was published in 2016 and recently translated into Lithuanian, the author emphasizes that society is inclined to pay immoderate and unfounded attention to talent and too little of it to grit (willpower, determination to push towards an aim, not giving up after failure). How much do you think talent is mythologized in the reception of the Lithuanian cultural and literary field? Is it an artist’s or writer’s talent, his innate genius that we talk about more often, or do we rather accentuate craft, work, and mastery?

Since childhood, people around me have been going on about 1% talent and 99% work. I haven’t even heard of other versions. Forgive me, but what of that innate genius, in, let’s say, music, what of being born a genius musician but not playing? Right now, I’m answering the questions on the second floor in my father’s attic with my legs tucked uncomfortably under me, and on the first floor, my pianist niece has been battering the piano for several hours already. When she’s finished and off to her books, my husband will replace her at the piano and hit the keys, though he earns his daily bread by working as a translator. And it’s like this every day. People in my life don’t waste time sitting, discussing, accentuating a version; they work. I could do more work, but that’s probably another topic. But this I know for sure—if you haven’t written in a long time, you’ll come up with shit, and when you gain momentum in writing, pages start to write themselves. I believe in passion, I adore mastery in any area. I don’t believe in geniuses who don’t do anything. I don’t like them.

You stated in one of your earlier interviews: “fast feedback is more important than anything to me, so I ‘publish myself’ online the moment I write something, on once and now on Facebook. Not too smart, but you can see right away how many people have read it, and how they react to it.”[4] Do you still stick to the same opinion? Perhaps social networks can become (have already become?) the principal space for new works and for the display of their drafts? How can it alter society’s approach towards literature and writing? And not just the approach, but also the creative process itself, perhaps? Well, for example, an artist, trying to adjust himself to the audience, consciously or unconsciously, decides to change his style into something a little more understandable, something that goes for a faster effect, a reaction that’s more favorable and guarantees more “likes.”

No, I don’t stick to this opinion anymore. There are many writers on Facebook. Everyone wants to write and everyone is lazy to read, and the most likes are scored by selfies of pretty girls with not too many clothes on them. What, haven’t you noticed?

Zagrakalyte interview 01Giedrė Kazlauskaitė, CactusesWhat do you think about the strategies for advertising books, actively creating and promoting the writer’s profile? Kęstutis Navakas is the first example that comes to mind—not only a talented and productive author, but also an active creator of his image, his “brand”: posting his personal experiences on Facebook nearly every day, adding a page of his manuscript or a special souvenir to his book, etc. Would you agree that the audience is more and more interested in the author’s life, his surroundings and his daily life? Doesn’t that leave the creative work in the background?

If a Facebook writer, especially if they are a young pretty female writer who hasn’t written that much yet, becomes too busy taking pictures of themselves, I turn him/her off, quietly, because I don’t have much time for Facebook as it is. I’ve been putting photos from old press there recently, myself, because I work with that old press right now. It’s the things that I occupy myself with that I show others. But, yes, I’m quite aware that you have to promote a book you’re selling. And I’m aware that a pretty face is pretty, and a deceased writer is deceased. Everything else is chosen by the readers. Some need this, others need that, some want to know their favorite writer’s recipe for pickled cucumbers, others don’t even know what the social networks are, exactly. I suppose, if the creative work is a wow, you won’t put it into the background.

Anyway, I’m no expert myself—I just went to check—I have thirty followers, and I only had two and a half a year before. Also, I’ve never gotten more than two hundred likes, and I only got two hundred once. Briefly, I could do more for readers’ attention in that department, but I’m too lazy. I’d rather write something for them.

How would you define the relationship between creative work and place of residence? Can you discern an impact of the new environment on the development of your creativity now that you have moved to Brussels?

Well, for instance, I’m currently writing this huge historical novel; its spark was struck by a gravestone found in a graveyard in Laeken (one of the Brussels communes), on which a letter for a deceased wife is carved in Chinese characters. Also “performing” in the novel is, for example, Skrebotiškis Church. It’s been three hours since I returned from its keeper as I now write. Albina Pribušauskaitė is the keeper of the decaying Skrebotiškis church and was the keeper of the district before that. She has even edited the Bible itself. (Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)

I spend at least two months in Lithuania every year. Where I sit, there I sing.

In your essay Mama poetė (Mother Poet you claimed that writers are “fun to watch as a separate breed that resolves, in turn, into various tribes. Prose writers, for instance, can graze on their own, while poets keep flocking together; perhaps they like it better, being in flocks, like some guinea pigs?”[5] Indeed, we see poetry groups today, although it’s not so much the similarities of creative style but the character, worldview, or affinity that brings them together (it’s rather the cohorts of friends that function in today’s literary field instead of movements that manifest common ideological positions). What’s your way of looking at this kind of group? Would you associate yourself (before / now) with a particular circle, society, or group?

Before, well, way before, when I was a childless resident of Vilnius, I’d go, every night, to graze in town with my husband’s friends such as Marius Burokas, Vytas Dekšnys, Andrius Jakučiūnas, Remigijus Audiejaitis, and Mantas Gimžauskas, the latter two who are now deceased. Sometimes we’d be joined by Slombas (Tomas S. Butkus) and Antanas Šimkus. But by no means would we limit ourselves to literature in our conversations and we wouldn’t go around town for the love of pure literature. Since that time, I also consider artists Kostas Gaitanži and Olga Dedova (a great poet, someone publish her book, quick), poet-musician Domantas Razauskas and long-time-no-see Lukas Miknevičius, as my friends. I feel calm and easy with them now, too. Currently, in the time of social networks and emigration, I think of many more writers, artists, and musicians as my friends; some of them might not even suspect their friendship with me. I like being friends with the literary critics Jūratė Čerškutė and Eglė Kačkutė, and I like sharing loved ones with them, and foes better still. I’m too old for literary manifestos. I like interesting people, whatever they do: I want to be friends with all the interesting ones instead of being at odds with them. Besides, Lithuania is simply too small for these specific literary circles and whatnot.

In her answers to the Literatūra ir menas (Literature and Art) questionnaire, writer and essayist Giedra Radvilavičiūtė declared that “at a certain age, every intelligent person experiences a misalignment with the changing times. They don’t pretend. Because there are various means to be deluded into thinking that you’re keeping up with the times...”[6] At the end of our conversation I’d like to ask how (if) you deal with the changing times. Do they affect your creative work / creativity? What kind of words do you think would most accurately describe the time we live in?

I don’t like Giedra Radvilavičiūtė, because she doesn’t like me. I especially avoid her since the Šiaurės Vasara literary forum last year. Personal antipathy blocks my understanding of the question; chirping is all I can hear in the question.

The time we live in is different for every one of us. The speed of time, the register of time—I don’t think a common time exists for us all. For example, I read press from the years 1904, 1943 and 1855—meanwhile, I’d be knee-deep in precisely those times. I’d only peep out into 2017 to eat, to cycle thirty kilometers at least and to buy some beer or Lithuanian fruit wine because the prices of non-Lithuanian grape wine are perversely high right now. Joking aside, I’m healthy, strong, happy and in love at this time: a wonderful time. More, more!


1. Elžbieta Banytė, Poetry Vulnerable to Rabies and Vanity,
2. Roland Barhes, Teksto malonumas (The Pleasure of the Text), Vilnius: Vaga, 1991, p. 25.
3. Rašytojas G. Kanovičius: literatūra silpsta (Writer G. Kanovičius: Literature Is Becoming Weak), Kauno diena,
4. Agnė Žagrakalytė, Trankytis po pasaulį (Knocking about the World), Literatūra ir menas,
5. Agnė Žagrakalytė, Mama poetė (Mother Poetess), Bernardinai,
6. Rašytojų išpažintys (Confessions of the Writers), Literatūra ir menas, your social media marketing partner


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