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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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Neringa Butnoriūtė

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Neringa Butnoriūtė

Translated by Diana Barnard

 

Valdas Papievis Echo review 02Dainius Gintalas, Vienos vasaros giesmė: eilėraštis-upė/ One Summer's song, Vilnius: Lithuanian Writers’ Union Publishing House, 2021, p. 71. Design by Deimantė Rybakovienė

Once when I was writing about Dainius Gintalas’s poems, I called them efficacy poetry: poetry that talks about a condition in order to convey it effectively. Admittedly, we could debate whether this is not the goal of many, if not all, poets. However, in the work of Gintalas, who writes acerbic texts, the aim to arouse is perhaps the most essential, particularly because poetry is often not about what has happened, but about how things could be.

Gintalas’s worldview could traditionally be described as “uncomfortable.” His poetry deals with psychological realities: the impossibility of categorizing the human, marginal states of consciousness as well as male desires and instincts, while voicing them through writing amounts to an act of self-cleansing. Gintalas associates destructive phenomena with the vital powers of the individual, with particular emphasis on sexual power, and the inclination to animism. That is why his poetry can be surprising: he does not shy away from provocation with drastic images and confessions that balance between the erotic and the pornographic and polemicizing with the established (especially Christian) notion of morality.

The aesthetic goals of Gintalas’s poetry are also related to the function of self-cleansing. We can consider him to be a professional stylist with very good knowledge of various genres and styles (Gintalas has translated Artaud and Lautréamont). Each of his books offers us a different way of speaking but maintains a similar principle: there is an affinity with Expressionism, relationships between words and sounds are strongly exaggerated, and frequent rhythmic repetitions make his texts resemble dramatic rituals. Therefore it is interesting to both listen to Gintalas read his poetry aloud and to read it ourselves: it is brimming with provocative gusto and frenzy. Gintalas shatters the void, daring to turn noise into the basis for poetry. Such an impression does not arise because the text actually says something unexpected; the drama of his work unfolds through the choice of poetic form and style. In this way, his poetry reminds us that language has a positive, stimulating effect and that intentions to provoke can also be the essence of poetry.

Vienos vasaros giesmė (One Summer's Song) is a hallucinatory work about love for life and human imperfection. Originally written as a single work, it was later divided into seventeen parts. Gintalas says that the initial impulse behind Vienos vasaros giesmė was to write a diary. He also supports the idea that drastic biographical facts give authenticity to poetry. This attitude became more obvious in his earlier book Adatos (2016; Needles)[1]. Its fundamental idea – coming to terms with the impossibility of being categorized – encompassed the relationship of the sinful subject to society and family. His treatment of such problems bring Gintalas’s work closer to confessional poetry.

Vienos vasaros giesmė is written as a positive poetic flow combining emotional and creative experience into one whole. Gintalas’s image of the sinful loser has rendered him in a destructive light, and therefore it is unusual to find joyful vitality in his work. For the subject, the specific landscape of Maskoliškės and the Baltic Sea region acts as a narcotizing portal. It erases all sorts of boundaries: between external and internal tensions, between the human and the animal, between yesterday and today, between heaven and the underworld – “we often dissect what we don’t see we’re dissected by what we don’t see” (p. 21–22). This time, associative visions, registered biographical inserts, and emotional ups and downs allow the subject to come to terms with the present. In the civilized world, unacceptable phenomena become a characteristic strength in the conditional environment of the poems (“a wound is rife with gravel and embers, but what is life without embers,” p. 37).

The process, associations, and the sense of integrity are the driving forces behind Gintalas’s dramatic speaking. A boy is aware of his carnality and is slowly becoming a lustful man, father, and creator; from the surroundings of his native Slabadėlė, he enters a wider world, a world made new through the hallucinating beauty of (Finno-Ugric) languages. The work is indeed noisy, dreamy, and full of “stimulants”: paraphrases of translations of familiar aesthetics, atmospheric references to works of art and music, leitmotifs from the poet’s earlier work (corvus corax, Cybele, etc.). It captures and reflects Gintalas’s worldview.

It is hardly appropriate to engage in deep analysis of this text: what goes into the poem-river seems to flow out of it. What sticks in mind this time is the poet’s chthonic “blood group,” revealed in a number of his books; now, however, the subject oscillates between prophecies and confessions and does not identify with any of the possible roles. Speaking as a pagan, a teenager, a libertine, and a member of the male community, he does not provide any additional perspectives, but rather exoticizes all the roles. In Vienos vasaros giesmė, Gintalas attempts to extract the content with a writing that shimmers, betraying that the subject’s experiences are vital and he is surrounded by life on the outside.

It seems somewhat more important to emphasize that in a flow work, Gintalas chooses not to civilize understanding or turn it into a wise truth, but to feel it. The passionate sense of wholeness is often permeated by male/mating fetishes and a carnality that “hides the self in a secret chest” (p. 38). The center of gravity in the exalted world remains below the navel but above the knees. This quality is both adorable and raises a smile in the reader because it may come across as slightly juvenile.

If we understand the fetishization of the world in its primordial sense as adoration by which the object (the world) is endowed with supernatural powers, then each act of Gintalas’s experience contains some kind of shamanic movement and lust. It is therefore not surprising that he refers to his work, which is written in rich and rhythmic language, a hymn. The genre of the hymn refers to the human’s primordial proximity to nature (especially birds, with which the subject identifies) and to the relationship between art and nature (the work is called a “poem-river”). The function of the hymn as a rite is equally important. Nothing can happen in a hymn, because ritualistic speaking based on repetition can take on a magical significance on its own and can trigger action without a specific event. Yet is that enough for its meaning?

In Gintalas’s poetic epic, vitality and energy are inseparable from the subjective drama and its dispersion: the liberated taboo experiences referred to by various prosaic episodes. The conceived subject is a free creator, conscious of being the sensitive other (“we are fragile therefore we write poetry,’ p. 48). His ambitions and mythologies are primarily personal, self-reinforcing, and thus not necessarily as eloquent as I would have thought they might be, especially if we are used to looking for the social poetry-motivating connections and for the intellectual quality in metaphors.

In Lithuanian poetry, the works that prove, in their own way, that “subconscious” speaking can be no less productive and meaningful than that which is rationally tamed are not frequently encountered. Dainius Gintalas’s attempt at transforming experience into a unique whole suggests reading Vienos vasaros giesmė as a provocative adventure. We will grasp a number of themes here: the benefit of self-observation, of parenthood, a gentle critique of civilization, and so on. That is why we could call this work diverse, but I would also but I would also argue that, due to its fragmented nature, it is also multifaceted.

 

 

1. See Elžbieta Banytė’s review of Adatos: https://vilniusreview.com/reviews/124-into-the-skin-into-the-heart-into-the-brain

 

 

 

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