Aidas Marčėnas is a poet, essayist and literary critic (b. 1960). He is the author of 15 collections of poems. Marčėnas stands out from his own generation and from younger poets for the attention he pays to form, favouring traditional rhymes and rhythms, and experimenting with exotic genres like the Japanese tanka. He is also very fond of postmodernist games in his poetry, and in his later collections he often provides commentaries of how his poetry should be understood.
His poems are translated into English, Belorussian, Polish, French, Russian and other languages. A member of Lithuanian Writers’ Union since 1993. He is also a laureate of Poetry Spring festival and has been awarded National Culture and Arts Prize (2005).

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

by Ramūnas Čičelis


Aidas Marcenas review 02

In Lithuanian and other literature, budding poets often experience a strong need to define their place in the literary tradition, to figure out and reveal to the reader the characteristics of their use of language that render them unique and original. Dovydas Grajauskas’s, Virginija Kulvinskaitė’s and Tomas Petrulis’s debut works are the most prominent examples of this trend in the Lithuanian literary world. In some cases, their authors are concerned about rupturing links with the literary tradition, while in others they desire to emphasize a deeply personal quality and, consequently, the individuality of their confessionals.

The modus operandi of the oldest generation of the poets, to which Aidas Marčėnas, the author of Dirbtinis kvėpavimas (Artificial Respiration / Kiss of Life) belongs, is opposite to that of their young colleagues: their gaze also moves towards the canon and the past, not in order to bring themselves into the limelight, but the other way round—to attribute their writing to one group of authors of the past. Despite the fact that even in Eastern Europe Postmodernism seems to have taken its last gasp, Marčėnas’s Dirbtinis kvėpavimas is a collection of poetry in which the writer tries to understand his whole poetic path and impart meaning to it by asserting that originality is just an ephemeral “flag”: sooner or later, the former avant-garde authors are either forgotten or become figures in literary history. Marčėnas already, of course, belongs to the living classics. In Lithuanian literary criticism, we sometimes hear hushed voices which nonetheless try to shout that “the emperor has no clothes,” in other words, that Aidas Marčėnas’s work is not valuable. However, critics’ desire to create minor literary scandals is evident when we consider the quality of the poems.

Marčėnas’s poetry is special in that both the author and the poems are a part of a new period in Lithuanian literature—a “silver age” of poetry. Approximately until the end of the twentieth century the Lithuanian poetic tradition was so rich in good authors that we could probably claim we had witnessed a “golden age” of Lithuanian poetry.  Drawing a parallel with the history of Russian literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it would be logical to expect that a period of flourishing should be followed by a silver age. Through his poetic behavior, Marčėnas confirms the birth of such a phenomenon in Lithuanian literature. Readers may find a relationship between his poetry and that of Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetayeva, and many other twentieth-century poets of Eastern and Central Europe. The poems in the book Dirbtinis kvėpavimas are a proof of this kinship a context that is broader than the present time period.

Poets die, but poetry remains. This banal truth Marčėnas reflects upon and conveys very subtly in his book: the lyrical subject continually faces the proximity of death. Such states of mind resemble the book Daiktas ir menas (The Object and Art) by the Lithuanian philosopher Arvydas Šliogeris. In it, the thinker analyzes and describes painters’ desire to depict what is threatened by immediate decline, death, or disintegration. As a poetry book, Marčėnas’s Dirbtinis kvėpavimas turns this mode of thinking on its head while maintaining the tragicomic aspect of the “metaphysics of a potato”. The poet maintains that it is he who is threatened with extinction, while the world will survive at least until the Apocalypse. Dirbtinis kvėpavimas is therefore a self-referencing poetry collection at the end of which the reader is given a chance to experience the decline of the world – the end, which is dominated by the satanic number 666.

The finale of a sage’s life boils down to reflection and the mastery of emptiness.  In the book Dirbtinis kvėpavimas, Marčėnas fills blank sheets of paper saying that the entire path walked is a paradox worthy of irony.  Understatements about one’s own figure, reduction of important events, poems that evolve more from looking than from thinking—all these are the symbols of the Socratic path tread by numerous literary individuals. Marčėnas’s Dirbtinis kvėpavimas is a radical rejection of baroque grandeur and hyperbolic plot fragments: the minuteness, fragility, and hope of spring still offer an expectation of life.  Splendor, grace, and similar motifs are replaced by quiet lingering and the casual jotting down of “a poem or two,” as the poet puts it. It is due to these qualities of his poetry and the traits of his personality that Aidas Marčėnas has become a literary figure. When poetry is life and when there is more poetry than life, in Dirbtinis kvėpavimas the author moves closer to the death from which he is protected only by a personal perception of historicity. It takes thinking from eternal qualitative values back to the chronological process where the memory about this author can almost be taken for granted.  The phenomenon of Aidas Marčėnas and poetry as an event will probably be most interesting in that the texts of the poems have created their author: when almost all life has landed in the pages of books, even the poet as such becomes a sign of speech, and not a living individual.

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