Vaiva Grainytė (b. 1984) is a writer, playwright, and poet. Her creative practice tends to cross the confines of desk work and be manifested in interdisciplinary practices: radio plays, site specific/dance performances, and musicals. Her solo works – the book of essays Beijing Diaries (2012) and the poetry collection Gorilla’s Archives (2019) were nominated for the Book of the Year awards and included in the top twelve listings of the most creative books in Lithuania. In her writing, documentary and social issues are exhibited in a poetic and paradoxical manner. Grainytė is also the librettist of the opera Have a Good Day (2013), which earned 6 international awards in Europe. Her second work in arts – a collaboration with Lina Lapelytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė Sun & Sea (Marina) (2019) was chosen to represent Lithuania at the 58th Contemporary Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, where it was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. The author and her colleagues’ work also received National Prize for Culture and Arts (2019).

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Vaiva Grainyte review 02

Vaiva Grainytė Gorilla’s Archives Vilnius, Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla (Lithuanian Writers Union Publishing House), 2019. 126 p.

In Lithuania, Vaiva Grainytė is best known as one of the winners of the Golden Lion award at this year’s Venice Art Biennale (together with Lina Lapelytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė). She studied theater at the Vilnius Academy of Music and Theatre and lived in Beijing during 2010–2011, where she wrote her first essay book Pekino dienoraščiai (“Beijing Diaries”). However, some curious Lithuanian readers had already known her before: as a poet, a celebrity-face-engraved-earring artisan, and simply a creative personality, seen in cultural periodicals and heard in tiny little concerts performing under the name of DJ Regina. Grainytė’s an experienced traveler; she’s lived in creative residencies, written dramaturgic texts and radio shows. Her first more eminent piece of work was a libretto dedicated to modern opera, titled Geros dienos! (“Have A Good Day!”) and written in 2013 in collaboration with Lina Lapelytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė. The text was translated into multiple languages and received plenty of attention both in Europe and beyond, thus dooming Grainytė to acquire the image of a “traveling writer.” Regardless of defining herself as an individualist, she is also capable of teamwork – this was proved by her second opera-performance Saulė ir jūra (Marina) (“Sun & Sea (Marina)”), which won her the Golden Lion.

Due to such a notable biographical course, Grainytė’s poetry somehow slipped into the shadows. And yet for the author herself, it remains a very important part of her identity: judging from Gorilos archyvai, she stills considers herself as an individualist. Nevertheless, she still works with interdisciplinary theater projects (!). I’d like to call Grainytė’s poetry neo-avant-garde: as this type of poetry is very scarce in Lithuania, Grainytė’s texts are reminiscent of the writing style of Keturi vėjai[1], practiced during the interwar period, when the first real Lithuanian avant-garde corresponded smoothly with the “straw-like” details of the Lithuanian countryside. This harmony is also present in Grainytė’s poetry, as the author is open to ecological issues, her lifestyle is not purely urban, and her language connects fragments of nature and modernity:

What a vile duke is the sun

He, first of all, is obese,
his palms – pesky detectives, mills tirelessly
the face – a giant elderate,
the mouth – sizzling crazy roosters, a red fossil.

The sun is vile!

              (Appearance of the Sun, p. 7)

Such writing style is not very frequent in Lithuania: the poet intentionally mixes up the grammatical gender of the word “Sun,” applies the avant-garde collage principle, takes up a negligent observer’s posture, and uses a semantically condensed language. The title of the book is also quite unusual: the rather coarse image of a gorilla doesn’t offer any sweet talk to the reader; on the contrary, it’s almost disturbing, a little like Luis Buñuel’s An Andalusian Dog. Grainytė’s not imitating any Lithuanian poet and has no tendency of obeying the authority-based poetic tradition so characteristic of this country. This fairly untypical style also includes some postmodern techniques, such as the use of insignificant numbers, prices, information from receipts, and all sorts of mundane details:

Grabs a šakotis by the horns
and drags it home.
2,9 EUR, 300 g.
Will eat for breakfast at 15 h:

               (Freelancer, p. 38)

It’s also worth mentioning that this poetry is not of the “philological” kind: Grainytė uses completely different poetic expressions and isn’t afraid of words that aren’t very “correct.” And this is unusual of Lithuanian poetry, which has its own routine and patterns of “taken-for-grantedness.” The author leans on the aesthetic of ugliness, criticizes society’s inert customs, and establishes her own outlook on consumerism:

A line at the post office counter:
you can subscribe to magazines about lifestyles, sports,
knitting, the world’s secrets, ancient times, botany,
psychology, extreme experiences.

In churches people try to subscribe to love, to success
in their exams, to the capitulation of growths, tumors,
and multiple sclerosis, to peace for the dead.

In yoga practice, people breathe deeply and subscribe to
stronger thighs, flexibility, a light in their eyes and mind.

I am memorizing a table of German personal pronouns:
Ich – mein(e)
Du – dein(e)
Er, es – sein(e)
Sie – ihr(e)
And I don’t need anything else.

But to domesticate a vagabond dog
          that has broken its pronoun leash –

               (Undemanding Subscriber, p. 30)


The text reveals the lyrical subject’s values: not everyday household details, not one’s health, or family, or career, not spirituality, nor the body are to be considered as an investment; it is language itself, its grammar and possessive pronouns; it is individuality, personalism, me (there is an oxymoron here – the dog is a “vagabond,” but only in a physical, travel-related sense, while in fact it is completely stable, even if masked in ugliness). This programmatic poem is a little deceiving – what’s characteristic of the author is not the fetishization of language but the articulation of ideas. The problems formulated in these poems are not tackled with the help of language itself, while the world is not explained by the mere sound of the words.

Grainytė’s poetry is conceptual, intertextual, and laconic. It includes motives from Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, but it’s hard to understand the exact meaning behind them; perhaps they’re meant to legitimize poetic absurdism? Every chapter of the book begins with an epigraph, from Karelian fairy tales to A Sportsman’s Sketches. These epigraphs form paratexts, bringing us to the conclusion that Grainytė, regardless of her loyalty to Lithuanian authenticity (herb gathering, living in nature, etc. – details that she has mentioned in several interviews), is a global poet after all. She experienced an intense transformation during this last decade, which has shaped the ultimate image of her as an artist who’s not afraid of insecurity or instability.
Grainytė fully trusts the beauty of conjoining random imagery:

The wind so strong:
jellyfish have gathered into a single jellybush,
drying clothes have broken the laundry string’s spine,
mosquitos have been swept from ceiling perches,
and my head has been blown onto your bed.

               (The wind so strong..., p. 48).


Her sentences are mesmerizing, devoid of anything unnecessary; her images are brave, specific, and do not lull the reader with meaningless chatter. However, there’s a certain drawback, too: the writing style sometimes becomes a little journalistic (for instance, in the poem Pacientė ir jos prisiminimai (“The Patient and Her Recollections”), p. 64), and at times the author contradicts herself. The strongest feature of Gorilos achyvai is its subtle self-irony. “Baltramiejus Vilentas / taught at Königsberg Academia. / Now he is / my cat and / suffers from anemia.” (Nevykusi reinkarnacija (“A Failed Reincarnation”), p. 78): these verses are written in a Fluxus spirit and a nonsense-based style. An important characteristic of Grainytė’s poetry is an active alertness about civilization-formed hierarchies, an awareness of environmental issues. As Ieva Rudžianskaitė writes in the cultural journal Literatūra ir menas, “on the one hand, the lyrical persona defines herself clearly, and on the other, the person – as the central creature of Grainytė’s poems – is de-crowned, as human powers are granted to animals as well as objects […]” (Ieva Rudžianskaitė, LM, 2019 06 13 No. 13, p. 32). The author tries to leave the anthropocentric field with determination, critically reflecting upon the absurd of having appeared in it in the first place.

It’s impossible not to notice that Grainytė cares about social topics: she discusses expenditure in the First World and poverty in the Third, tackling these issues, however, with rather artificial didactics. Or perhaps it is simply exhaustion, a realist’s resignation, when the only weapon left is irony, without expecting any miracles from humanity.


1. Keturi vėjai (The Four Winds) was a Lithuanian literary movement and literary magazine, active from 1924 to 1928.


Translated by Alexandra Bondarev

Poems translated by Rimas Uzgiris and Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

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