Erika Drungytė was born in 1971 in Kaunas. She moved to Klaipėda in 1989 to study Lithuanian philology and theater. She moved back to Kaunas in 1995 and received a doctorate in the humanities from Vytautas Magnus University in 2002. Since 2016, she has been the editor-in-chief of the monthly cultural publication Nemunas. Erika Drungytė is the author of five poetry books; her most recent collection of verse titled Mountain and City was published in 2021. Drungytė translates poetry and prose from Latvian, Polish, Russian, and English. She currently lives in the Kaunas District, where she devotes much of her time to gardening.

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Virginija Cibarauske

Lina Buividavičiūtė

 Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas


Ieva Toleikyte review 02Erika Drungytė, Kalnas ir miestas: Kauko laiptai, 2021

I first met Erika Drungytė, a poet, translator, and the editor-in-chief of the monthly cultural publication Nemunas, when she acted as one of the jurists at a literary contest. I was one of the contestants. I still remember the feedback she gave us about our writing and especially the importance of what she described as the “thick philological lining” of literary works. Incidentally, this concept can also be applied to Drungytė’s own poetry, including her recent book Kalnas ir miestas (Mountain and City), which was published in 2021. The intertextual depth of Kalnas ir miestas is marked by its numerous references to history, mythology, philosophy, modern representations of nature, and both Western and Eastern cultures. Literary critic Ieva Rudžianskaitė has cleverly noted that despite the abundance of such different motifs, Drungytė is able to create a coherent poetic worldview: “Let us note that the various allusions are in no way a chaotic mess, as sometimes is the case in the works of some authors. In other words, intertextual references do not always help the author; instead, they may seem artificial, stifle the author’s voice, and emphasize, in a paradoxical way, the flaws of the work. This is not the case here—the intertextual references and the imagery of Western and Eastern cultures serve the author’s vision” (Knygos recenzija. Labirintas ir jo laisvė | Kultūra | Drungytė’s poetry is inherently twofold: we see this both from the book’s title and the aspects that appear in her poetry in opposing pairs: culture and nature, growth and decay, trauma and healing, Western and Eastern imagery, outer perception and inner reflection. The Eastern tradition is reflected by an abundance of imagery and the emphasis on direct experience. Such is the first poem in the book, which defines the medium required for writing an honest and authentic poem:

Poems can become of everything
Which is in you
And from nothing
Which you haven’t seen heard or ate

(“Et tu poetica,” p. 9).

This does not mean that an experiential poem must be a confessional poem—in Drungytė’s case, subjective experiences are transformed into raw material for establishing her poetic worldview. Drungytė’s many dedicational poems serve as examples of how personal details and the level of intimacy shared between two individuals can be transformed into a text that speaks on a more universal, relatable level. “Letter to a friend” is dedicated to the late poet Kęstutis Navakas; in it, the reality of a dreambecomes an alternative for or a continuation of the time spent among the living: “Let us meet in a dream, we will not act in it / but we will talk” (p. 13).

The harmony between Western and Eastern cultures present in Drungytė’s poetry are represented by the balance between the notion of collapse, the sensation of fragility, and the concept of the eternal wheel of life. The subject is focused on transience, fragility, and memories of friends that depart from this life. The poem “Mood I” proclaims a true “hare krishna of autumn,” followed by the flowers symbolizing the cycle of life and death, marigolds and chrysanthemums:

Homes fill with vases sputtering marigold orange
As days grow shorter,
there is nothing to be done –
The young men sing, titmice twitter over graves
And the shells of urns fill up with your friends
(p. 11).

The image of the cemetery and the relationship with a place of burial is twofold. “Letter to a friend” acknowledges the superiority of the dream, the spiritual reality, and life over an object, a tangible symbol of grief:

My friend, I do not know whether visiting a grave
gives a better sense of life
No offense, I believe that you are there
no longer and there is no reason to go anymore”
(p. 13).

On the other hand, another poem tells us that burial grounds have a calming effect—when an individual comes into contact with nothingness, surrounded by silence and memory, they can regain their passion for life:

I remember a friend once
in Bitėnai, at the grave of Vydūnas,
He laid there for maybe an hour
Smiling not moving
As if he felt a home
Possible only in dreams
(p. 77).

The concepts of fragility and humans as specks of dust are interwoven with the symbolic imagery of the circle of life and the ouroboros as a representation of the world and cosmos. All comes into being from a Daoist void, a nothingness that explodes into a thousand forms:

What can we guess, expect, conjure, or grieve for when
A splinter, a speck of dust, hundreds of meteors, or the shrieking sun disappear, if we see
How nothing ever disappears, how things appear out of things
Or, say, out of nothing
(“About that,” p. 18).

These Eastern inspirations are followed by other poems that embody traumatic experiences. The poems “From a childhood diary” and “The covering side of the moon” are the most remarkable in this aspect. The idyll of nature and somewhat folkloric context are replaced by a brutal reality that drags its darkness out into broad daylight and focuses on the helplessness of the vulnerable: “

I brought back three four-leaf
Three four-leaf clovers
I found them all in a day
In a single day in a field
That the boys had crossed
Who were raped in the foster home
That the boys had crossed
Who were raped by their parents
That the boys had crossed
Who sought solace in strangers
And by strangers were raped
Who spoke to them about love
(“The covering side of the moon,” p. 62).

The second part of the book contains some poems that are even more personal—“Athena,” “Mantra of having,” and “Sometime.” They reflect the female condition and combine intertextual references with oxymoronic confessions: “I am very very weak / In being strong” (“Athena,” p. 58).

Another prominent aspect in Drungytė’s poems is the emphasis placed on authentic existence. Their poetic subject focuses on building an honest relationship with themselves and the world and is bold enough to define their own vulnerability and the strength that comes with it. The subject does not favor either rose- or jade-tinted glasses (more rather “fable glasses”—“Hic iacet lepus,” p. 20); they dare to turn off the broadcasters of a simulated reality (Untitled, p. 35) and place due value on gifts and givens (“He spoke thus,” p. 15).  Due respect is paid to the miracle of nature and God and the secret of creation (Untitled, p. 85). The subject is concerned with experiencing the world as a dense, interconnected network of meaning, a part of which we all are, and argues against solipsism:

You cannot
Hide, separate, or lock yourself away
Cut yourself out of a place
Or another out of you
(“We live in each other,” p. 22).

On the other hand, the subject realizes that becoming open is a long, complex, and—given the limits of human nature—somewhat impossible process and that there are experiences that are  suppressed and which instead flourish in seclusion (Untitled, p. 65).

To sum up, Mountain and City is a creative effort that is made unique by its multiple layers of meaning, modern representations of nature, abundance of intertextual references, and the harmony it finds between contradictions. Cities may be built on a mountain; gardens may be cultivated on a mountain too:

The city is full of me
The city is full of me
I am full of my garden
(“For myself,” p. 81).




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