Aivaras Veiknys was born in 1983 in Elektrėnai. He studied real estate management at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University from 2001 to 2005. Aivaras Veiknys is one of the founders and organizers of the literary festival Literatūrinės Vilniaus slinktys. He has published four poetry books: R aktai (2007), Paukštuko liudijimai (2014), for which he received the Young Yotvingian award, Laumių vaikas (2016), earning him the Salomėja Nėris literary prize and the LWU award for children’s literature, and Mamuto medžioklė (2021). Veiknys has been a member of the Lithuanian Writers’ Union since 2014. His poems have been translated into English, German, Polish, Russian, Croatian, Flemish, and Greek languages.

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Lina Buividavičiūtė

Lina Buividavičiūtė

Translated by Diana Barnard


Valdas Papievis Echo review 02Aivaras Veiknys, Mamuto medžioklė, V.: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla/Lithuanian Writers Union Publishing House, 2021

Aivaras Veiknys is a well-known poet of the younger generation whose work has been recognized with important Lithuanian literary awards. Mamuto medžioklė (Mammoth Hunting) is Veiknys’s fourth book, and I would say it is seminal: in it, the essential features of Veiknys’s poetics take shape and his distinctive aesthetic program unfolds. I must confess that in the past, it was not always easy for me to grasp the strength and uniqueness of Veiknys’s poetry, but it was Mamuto medžioklė that allowed me to discover my own relationship with it and to spot the most important and unique qualities of his poetry. The collection has some distinctive elements on which I will focus in this review.

The first thing I would like to emphasize is the conceptual nature of the collection, its thematic coherence, and its clear and convincing structure. The book consists of four eloquently and accurately titled sections, “Akmens amžius” (Stone Age), “Mamuto medžioklė” (Mammoth Hunting), “Atlydys” (Thaw), and “Šiaurė yra manyje” (The North Is Inside Me), which are framed by introductory and concluding poems. As I have already remarked, all this imparts completeness to the collection and creates the impression that the poems in it speak to one another, complementing and echoing each other’s meanings. All the poetry in the book revolves around the mythical and simultaneously retrospective motif of the “mammoth hunt” that seeks to explain, understand, and interpret an earlier self that has become the subject of the poem. In an interview with Dalia Linkevičiūtė (“Jeigu jaučiuosi svetimas, negaliu rašyti,”, Veiknys confirmed this possible perception: “the mammoth is me, an extinct me in an extinct world. And yet, it is undeniable, like the bones that the curious archaeologists unearth in one place or another. Hunting is also a kind of archaeology, soothsaying, or rather, divination from bones. This is very important to me.” Yet despite such a individualistic autobiographical context with frequent images of the subject’s childhood, the universal element of the poems is very clear. One of the most significant aspects of the collection is the archetypal nature of Veiknys’s poetry, which is more pronounced and original here than in his earlier work. The images of the tribe and the figures of the father and the mother in Mamuto medžioklė are powerful and link the subject to the collective consciousness and the subconscious. The poetic tension created by Veiknys unfolds from here, from the newly perceived and articulated existential aspects of the common past. The archetype, the universals from which the personal story of a particular subject branches off is the poetic backbone of Veiknys’s poem. As already mentioned, mother, father and tribal motifs are recurring images in Mamuto medžioklė. The often-mystified chronology of the poems in the book, where the images of tangible reality are interwoven with a mythical space-time and a world vanished in a snowstorm, seems to echo the mood these motifs create. Indeed, the dissolving boundaries of worlds and the depiction of a kind of a primordial state and mythical time enable a connection with the past, with the depth and essence of the world. To me, one of the most memorable poems is the modern interpretation of a biblical text:

Return of the Prodigal Son

A bowl of meat, rye bread, tastefully fried,
only the water in the pitcher has gone musty…

The dead father pokes his son in the side:
“So what have you been doing, son, for all this time?”

“Not much”

(p. 69)

In addition to recurring archetypal figures, Veiknys’s poems feature recurring archetypal images, such as smoke. Arising from the common “fire of experience,” these images are signs, reality-altering material, maya. It is smoke that “gets in your eyes” (p. 29) and a “shelter… from knowledge” (p. 31). In terms of the archetypicality intertwined with the personal, considerable attention in Veiknys’s poetry is given to childhood. Very symbolic in this respect is the poem “Jaukas” (Bait), in which the subject refers to “an old childhood coat that has grown inside in patches” (p. 61). What has grown in inside will never easily succumb to superficial, insubstantial, or indifferent description. What has grown inside begs to be seen in its depths and essence, where “there tight yard of childhood, the maple tree, boards hammered together, / books stolen shamelessly from the library” (“Luošys” [The Cripple], p. 74).

Another important theme of the book is the delicate balance between life and death, darkness and light. Veiknys’s harsh and austere poetry (adjectives borrowed from the online book review platform Goodreads) is born out of luminous darkness, out of the tension between non-being and the assertion of life; sometimes it exposes itself through the death of illusions and the acceptance of the realm of death: “Death is simply there and that’s it— / there’s nothing to be done” (“Samurajus miršta” [The Samurai Is Dying], p. 55). The most memorable poems permeated with this theme are “Paskutiniojo teismo belaukiant” (Waiting for the Last Judgement) and “Sūnaus paklydėlio sugrįžimas” (Return of the Prodigal Son). When we consider the past as well as memories and experiences, the archetypal images that universalize and make recognizable the experiences described are accompanied by oblivion and nothingness that always threaten the history of the individual. Many poems in Mamuto medžioklė are filled with decay and loss; this is because you cannot bring back the past, but you can recreate it over and over again, and a poem is such an act of creation. As he writes in a poem called “Weeds”: “this is really the last time, / there won’t be another— / my father will not take me again / to burn the weeds / my mother pulled out—" (p. 31).

Similarly, in “Mammoth Hunting”:

for it does not exist, the place
once loved by lovely school children
has vanished in thin air, transformed into dust,

The possibility of meaning in this world is also open to doubt and questioned, and yet the choice falls on being, finding, and naming that which hurts, that which is born in luminous darkness:

as pretty as a bud that has begun to wilt,
your youth will smile at life,
but all of that is meaningless:

(Mammoth Hunting, p. 39)

The abundance of natural imagery is another striking motif. The mammoth-animal-human, as such, is part of nature, and that is why smoke, birds, snow, and grass are important aspects of the poetics of Veiknys’s verse. Of course, it is easy to wade into banalities, but Mamuto medžioklė is saved by unexpected similes and metaphors. For example, wild strawberries are “as black as fuel oil” in a poem, and “a lonely wind hawl roars.”

Another key aspect of the book is the tension between the self and other. The search is for communion because having their own tribe is very important to the subject of the poem. Acceptance, “one’s own blood,” and shared experiences increase understanding and satisfy the need for love and belonging according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Alongside hope, “today you will also experience / the intoxicating miracle of communion” (“Potato Digging,” p. 17), loss, disbelief, and lost communion also unfold: “blood that ties us has become a metal fire” (“Bait,” p. 61). Moving from the subject to the author, it seems that acceptance and belonging to the creative community is very important to Veiknys. His dedication of poems to fellow writers and the above-quoted interview with the telling title, “If I feel like a stranger, I can’t write” are proofs of this. Several poems in the book reflect on the importance of poetry as well as on becoming and being a poet. For example, in the poem “Birdhouse,” there is a shift from literal to figurative meanings, from childhood games to adult games with language:

They have long gone separate ways,
spreading their wings for newer homes,
but I hammer and bang, bang and hammer
twisted, rusty commas and colons.

In conclusion, I would also like to point out that Veiknys pays considerable attention to form, rhythm, and rhyme (his poems abound in elements of classical verse and the book includes a modern cycle of sonnets). The poems “Dviese” (Two) and “Antras sniegas” (Second Snow) include graphic elements. Historical, mythical, biblical, and literary intertextual references also form the poetic code of the book.

To sum it up, Mamuto medžioklė is an original, interesting, and thought-provoking book that deserves to be discovered and read.

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