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Ramunė Brundzaitė (b. 1988) is a poet and translator. She received a BA from Vilnius University in Lithuanian philology and Italian language, and her MA in intermedia literary studies from Vilnius University. She has published one poetry book, Monarch, My Friend (2013), for which she was awarded the Druskininkai Poetry Fall Young Jotvingian Prize and the Vilnius City Mayor’s Prize for poetry about Vilnius. Her poems have been translated into Latvian, Italian and English. She also translates poetry from Italian.

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Lina Buividavičiūtė

by
Lina Buividavičiūtė

Translated by Saulius Venclovas

 

Ramune Brundzaite review 02Ramunė Brundzaitė, Tuščių butelių draugija, V.: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2022

When it comes to Ramunė Brundzaitė’s second book of poetry, fans and critics were forced to wait for some time. Her first collection of poetry, Butterfly, My Friend, was greeted with success, winning the Lithuanian Writers’ Union annual “First Book” prize and receiving two prestigious Lithuanian poetry awards. After nine years, I hold in my hands Brundzaitė’s The Society of Empty Bottles and am sincerely delighted to be reading her poetry. In this review I attempt to explain where this delight stems from.

One of the most important and charming qualities of Brundzaitė’s poetry is the authenticity of the depicted world and the truthfulness and earnestness of the lyrical subject. There is no attempt here to mask herself or use fancy witticisms and be clever when it’s unnecessary. Of course, Brundzaitė still plays with language and references to others’ work without diminishing the aforementioned pure and clear impression that is left by complicated, atypical, and traumatizing experiences. Brundzaitė’s second book draws near the genre of confessional poetry; however, she shows no desire to poke at facts and fixate on possible parallels with her biography. Most importantly, the reader feels that the author knows what she is writing about.

One of the pivotal themes in The Society of Empty Bottles, as may be deduced from the title, is the alcoholism of the female lyrical subject. This perspective is particularly important because until now it has not often been discussed as honestly and conclusively in modern Lithuanian poetry. Brundzaitė consciously focuses on and deromantisizes alcoholism in her poetry: although booze can resurrect sentimental feelings by helping a person remember people, odors, and images, it is the letters AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) that describe the lyrical subject’s new identity.

The author concentrates on the alcohol related self-deception – a kind of maya – and, simultaneously, observes the attraction of the people that surrounded her previous self and the nostalgia of a certain period in life, even if it had gaps in memory and moments of darkness: “I take a close look at each of them / once more pretend to know about wine / this one’s dry and sparkling / “from single-harvest Reislin Grapes/uncared for by the climate” / I lighten as I realize, who cares / if I drink it right away, in the morning/ before noon / it’s an expensive drink...it will be a shame to say goodbye” (“my last bottles”). The sincere gaze into the troubles of the subject when giving up alcohol. the poetical progression of different conditions (from intoxicating memories of tasting fortified wine –  “Upytė” – with now former friends to the period inside the program in Minnesota, the addiction treatment center and “medals,” signifying months and years of sobriety) provides substance with multi-layered depth. An impressive aspect of Brundzaitė’s peotry is her elucidation of the momentary states before she possesses a new and healthy conceptual self, then beginning the process of accepting, discovering, and creating a new “I” but still being shy and uneasy about it: “Where will we be when we get out / where will we go out?” (“3 Good Hope Street”). The lyrical subject is able to reveal a complex process of healing, marked by inner resistance and choices that may be evaluated after time passes: “In Minnesota books were prohibited / everyone got only five / (they required a signature) / used ones, classic / AA literature / 28 days of indoctrination / a reason to get angry / now it seems funny / the best thing that could have happened to me” (“the first year of sobriety”). Brundzaitė’s subject attempts to reflect and understand the reasons for her addiction by looking back at her family and her father’s influence (“Key memory”). However, the author’s poetry stands out by not only because she identifies the facts of genetics and her environment, which may have influenced her attraction to alcohol, but also taking responsibility for her experiences, choices, and life.

Another important theme in The Society of Empty Bottles is mental health. Brunzaitės poetry mentions psychotherapy, friends, and acquaintances who have committed or are pondering suicide, Vasara Street (where one of the most famous psychiatric hospitals in Lithuania is located), the famous “27” club, the difficulty of a person accepting their own body. The degree of the lyrical subject’s openness, sensitivity, and fearlessness in showing her vulnerability, is impressive, for example, in the poem “jeans”: “if I could only find such jeans / that would soak up all the stains / that wouldn’t slip / that would hide the lumps of my belly / my father’s glass and my mother’s tablets / jeans that, when rubbed, make wishes come true / jeans on which peace on earth may stand / jeans, the cure  from cancer / jeans that may feed the poor / jeans into another world.” Furthermore, Brundzaitė’s poems speak of the subject’s insecurity, existential anxiety, and endless thoughts about facing the mortality and constant change of the Other and the self: “What will I write at 39? 49? / Will I write? Will I live till then?...A year now that I’ve felt / like everyday I’m late for a train / or plane / and every day I hear / about a new train or plane / catastrophe” (“29”). In this context, the poem “after m,” dedicated to Indrė Audenytė, stands out as the initial thought wields a major intonation (“what will you do after your master’s?”) that turns towards a minor sound and a fatal end: after m, after “mirtis” (death in Lithuanian).

An important aspect of Brundzaitės new collection of poetry is the journey through the world with the attempt to unite local, national, and global experiences and intertextual references. From Lazdynų Pelėda (two famous Lithuanian writers hid behind this pseudonym), the thirteenth of the black crow brothers (from the folktale Twelve Brothers, Black Crow Runners), a job in a bookshop, to Italy, the works of Umberto Saba and Amy Winehouse, and “Routers for Africa.” The lyrical subject shows interest in herself, her own experiences and trauma as well as in the global context: she is concerned about global conflicts and danger that affects all.

A job in an international company selling internet routers shows the futility of everyday actions, compared to the experience of people who struggle to survive in extremely dangerous areas. These topics are cracked open in Brundzaitė’s poem “Routers for Africa,” which employs irony to reveal the apathy of “first-world” countries, the capitalist perversion, and major existential detachment as consumerism become more important than human connection and empathy. Such an honest and perhaps even merciless depiction of the capitalist world, the consciousness of being part of the system also creates an air of authenticity and sincerity.

The Society of Empty Bottles also charms the reader with various expressions, sensible use of intertextual references, ambiguous symbols, connections between global and Lithuanian cultural references, and the play on different speech registers.

This is one of those good books that leaves a mark and encourages the reader to rethink their own life and that of others, the basic principles connecting us, even if all experiences do not match. Once you have witnessed the lights of spiritual or physical death, you can’t be the same as before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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