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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

by Ramūnas Čičelis


Dovydas Grajauskas review 02

Brought up in Klaipėda, with his first book Apie reiškinius (On Phenomena) published last year, poet Dovydas Grajauskas mainly concentrates on the origins of Christian reality, which he interprets distinctively in his poems. The junctions between several millennia and the present are exactly where the poetic effect of many Grajauskas’s works stems from. Reaching the beginning of our era, the tradition serves merely as a take-off point for the poet instead of being a catalyst for religious or sacral sentiment. On the contrary – when relocated into this day and age, Christology becomes a reason behind irony, sarcasm, or curses.

Another cultural mine that Grajauskas digs into is the tradition of Lithuanian neoromantic poetry. In fact, the Lithuanian conception of the neoromantic poets doesn’t entirely coincide with the canon of Western poetry. Again, it is only to the extent of helping him understand the present day that Grajauskas’s poetic subject needs “sweet” rhymes, metaphors, symbols, and allusions bordering on kitsch beauty. The fate of many poetic clichés that date back nearly centuries is made clear through the reading of the poems from On Phenomena – metaphors and other tropes, once original, as well as expression and exalted content that delighted people then have now become the nature of pop music and even the vulgarly saccharine pseudoculture. In his poems Grajauskas, a young author himself, seems to settle accounts with the worship of the neoromantics, which continues to prevail in Lithuanian schools.

In his texts, the poet simply uncovers the collapse of the poetization of many established and seemingly immovable states. The poetic subject doesn’t trouble himself with philosophic questions of meaning – he’s more inclined to observe a phenomenon, to instantly grasp its standard, clichéd message and to dethrone it. Generally, a human being in Grajauskas’s On Phenomena is not characterized by the sequence of thought consisting of a question and an answer followed by another question, but rather by retaining the question in the pre-textual reality, revealing the answer in the text, and laughing roaringly at this answer in the end.

It is the social life of our time and its textual expression that relate the book’s subject to the present time. The topical reality of the poems, neither cultural nor intellectual, marks, instead, the content of life of the marginalized as well as its problems and their solutions. This aspect of On Phenomena brings Grajauskas closer to many of the young, modern authors of Lithuanian poetry: a number of them are critical of aspects of the present reality, things that provoke disgust or ironic laughter. What distinguishes Grajauskas from his peers is that in the face of the criticized reality, he doesn’t attempt to philosophize – problems are solved in the simplest of ways: telling someone to go “a little bit further away” or laughing at yourself – someone who would be an object of criticism to numerous poets of Grajauskas’s generation. Thus the relationship between the author of On Phenomena and our times is defined by the poetic subject’s brave divergence from the poetic speakers of most of other young poets, as he himself is the target for those other poets’ philosophy, criticism, and irony.

Another hallmark of Grajauskas’s poems reveals the synthesis of poetry and prose genres in Lithuanian literature, much like in many cases of Western literature. On Phenomena begins with what is referred to as an “attack” in the journalistic message genre – the very first lines draw you into the text, not gradually but immediately, at once catching the reader’s interest with action. The subsequent lines in Grajauskas’s poems are, naturally, diverse and not that easy to define. In On Phenomena, the endings of the poems are the most interesting: they’re as surprising as the  resolution of a novella. As Lithuanian and most Western literary authors usually no longer write novellas, the concept of this genre can be applied to poetry. Donaldas Kajokas, a poet from Kaunas, treats poetry in a similar way. The aspect of surprise, always found in the finale of his poems, discloses the subject’s wisdom and his ability to make paradoxical generalizations. However, the endings of Grajauskas’s poems are not so much paradoxical as surprising with their irony and sarcasm. When reading Grajauskas’s poems, it seems he’s very “serious” in them, whereas the endings of the works make you smile and realize that after Albert Camus’s The Plague, a modern individual can’t regard themselves so seriously, and there’s probably no need to.

Grajauskas’s On Phenomena is, thus, a poetry collection where its author determines his relationship with the heritage of culture, religion, and poetry and finds his original position against today’s social, political, and (pseudo)cultural contexts, which, on the one hand, are more typical to post-communist countries, but, on the other hand, may be defined as a modern person’s universal states and reactions to reality. The balance of all these qualities produces a “knot” of poetry, where the past and the present of literature along with the author’s (self)reflection are inevitably interwoven.
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