Dainius Gintalas (b.1973) is a poet, translator, libretist, and art and literary critic. He studied Lithuanian language and literature at Vilnius University and was also a student at the Vilnius Art Academy. His second poetry book, Boa, was awarded the Young Yotvingian Prize in 2008. (His first book, Viper, was published in 1997.) His third book of poetry, Needles, was published in 2016 and was selected as a Poetry Book of the Year.  His fourth collection of poems, One Summer’s Song, which was published in 2021, was awarded the Yotvingian prize. He is also the author of two poetry books for children.

In 2000 he began to organize amateur artist gatherings called the Maskoliškės Artists’ Front. He has translated works by Henri Michaux, Blaise Cendrars, René Char, Georges Bataille, Jean Genet, Lautréamont and other French authors.

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

by Dovilė Kuzminskaitė


Herkus Kuncius review 02

Dainius Dirgėla, Vaid│menų knyga, Vilnius: Tyto alba, 2017, p. 63.

In twenty-first century Lithuanian poetry, a slow centripetal shift is taking place: in the last five years books of poetry only attempt to divulge and discover unique forms of expression, working with the structure of the text and the book, and even though shyly, try and test linguistic potential (in this context we can recall Januševičius, Gintalas, Valionis, or Norvilas). It could be said that Lithuanian poetry is finally going through a very late and extremely naïve aesthetic avant-garde. It is specifically in this territory of the cannon that Dirgėla’s poetry is in motion.

In Vaid│menų knyga (The Book of Roles) Dirgėla works with a very specific theme—he raises the bar for himself to talk about the various aspects of relationships between men and women that attract increasing attention. The collection is made up of 25 roles Thepoems go through various trivial situations presenting the inner stress areas of man, his inner woman, and her inner man; a peculiar domestic drama takes place (the dedication to the “Senior Director” was not made in vain). To suggest the term stress is maybe a little too assertive, as Dirgėla does no preoccupy himself with spiritual archaeology, does not dig into psychological wounds. The author’s poetry slides over the surface, lightly touching upon specific problems, hinting at, naming, yet not remaining with them too long. The poems of Vaid│menų knyga imitate slides changing before the reader’s eyes; they are connected by the same props and reoccurring characters.

Truly, those who seek a contemporary discourse about the sexes will be disappointed: the poet presents a collection of clichés, fits the masks of stereotypes upon his characters, and reduces the woman’s role to banality. This collection is loaded with stubborn statements, reminiscent of a certain Lithuanian generation’s comedic remarks that to a younger reader may appear disinteresting and often no longer funny (as one of the subjects suggests “you can paint over your greying age / (...) sooner or later you will give yourself away,” p. 33). Seduced by the cunningly created game of roles the reader will be disappointed upon encountering such lines as “her inner man provoked me / into a discussion on politics / my inner woman glanced upon her / and both went shopping” (p. 12) or “you won’t go to the neighbor” (p. 21). Vaid│menų: 18 is toying with a man’s attempt to measure a woman’s world; however it can’t abandon the pernicious point of high heels, tight-fitting dresses, lipstick and other banalities, which some would refer to as archetypes. It appears that the work is going in two directions simultaneously and yet counterproductively: on the one hand by toying with the duality of individuality an attempt is made to free oneself from the trappings of the norm, while on the other hand a greater sinking into stereotypes takes place. We only wish that Lithuanian poets would speak on these themes more interestingly like the Catalonians Mireia Calafell and María Sevilla or the Australian Hera Lindsay Bird.

As to be expected in a collection on such themes, erotic elements cannot be avoided. Vaid│menų: 9 describes an orgasm as a rise to “the seventh heaven” (p. 17), while on p. 40 the subject states that he wants “to unfold the tight petals of her flower.” It is interesting to observe how within the field of creative strategies quite experimental and daring poetry suddenly, from a cultural context, reverts to depleted leitmotifs upon facing uncomfortable topics.

What is interesting is that many Lithuanian writers could write work which, with its sweet and sour lyricism, would recall Barnes or Kundera. Yet one of the main demands made by the Lithuanian poets to themselves is to firstly, at any cost, shake off lyricism (which Latin American and Arab poetry holds dear) and to attempt to appear more macho, coming closer to narrative and slam tendencies (that are very much present in contemporary English-spoken/written poetry).  Dirgėla jokes “you demolished yourselves to rhyme” (p. 41), trying to graphically represent the intonations of spoken language (affirming on p. 43 “rememberrememberremeber/ also those moments before,” it explores the graphic form of text:

when writing a text message

what are you up to on weekend,,,,,,,,,,,




(p. 19)

Dirgėla’s poems are accompanied with anti-aesthetic illustrations by Vidas Poškus, in this way reinforcing these particular confrontations with beautiful poetry, being ruled by the idea that not everything that is beautiful is poetry and not everything that is poetry is beautiful. Truly lyrical motifs cannot be avoided—beginning with the more successful (“the very same that for the last decade / my woman mutes less frequently running her fingers / through my thinning hair”, p. 23. [It is worth noting, that in these lines Lithuanian words with a shared root enthrall imprecisely but beautifully.] Closing with the like of the last illustration in the collection, where a bearded subject offers to the imagined you his heart momentarily ripped out of his chest. Truly, maybe this was Dirgėla’s intention—to authentically reflect on an appearance that is somewhat boorish, but within whom sits a well-hidden lyricist. In such event the semantic inequalities would have a meaning. Finally, on p. 63 it is stated:

i can be a president

but for some reason I don’t want to


to be myself

always changing

i am

Swapping the scenes of (co)habitation one after another, Dirgėla rushes ironically through Lithuanian current affairs: appeals to the present green government, unsuccessful copies of Black Friday reminiscent of a certain shopping center’s promotion. He does not avoid his link with the cultural canon and other Lithuanian writers. In this way poetry is tied to now: Dirgėla’s texts become an unparalleled chronicle, news transmitted from the lyrical subject’s world.

Vaid│menų knyga is a mix from the theatre of the absurd, stand-up comedy, delivered by a lipstick-wearing man  and poetry. Quite a brave play with the reader’s patience, the rules of which, as in all the (post)modern art, have to be accepted or to be left without applause.
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