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Antanas Šimkus (1977) was born in Vilnius, where he finished secondary school and graduated with a degree in Lithuanian studies. Šimkus has published three poetry collections (Skradžiai [1999], Sezonas baigtas [2010], Vakaras dega [2022]), and the children’s poetry book Vaizdai iš gyvenimo bobulytės ir kt. (2012). For his second poetry book, Šimkus received the Young Yotvingian Prize (2010) and the Vilnius City Mayor’s Prize (2012). His poetry has been translated into English, Latvian, Russian, Chinese, and Ukrainian. Šimkus has has also held the position of department editor at the weekly Literatūra ir menas, culture editor at Bernardinai.lt, and chief editor at the journal Metai. Since 2021, Šimkus has also worked as a teacher at a gymnasium in Vilnius.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Lina Buividavičiūtė

by
Ramūnas Čičelis

Translated by Saulius Venclovas

 

Ramune Brundzaite review 02Antanas Šimkus, Vakaras dega. – V.: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2022

Today’s young generation of Lithuanian poets primarily writes confessional poems dealing with the effects of trauma. The works are dominated by marginal situations, psychological conditions, fears, and the inner barriers hindering the life of the modern person. The real – partly psychoanalytical – aim of such works is to document that which the author themselves would rather forget. The negative experiences of the lyrical subjects unavoidably draw near the edges of narcissistic and even masochistic pleasure. Such literature is undoubtedly useful for the writer and may also be useful for readers with similar experiences. The intellect of young generation of poets expresses itself with good memory and original poetics, rather than with original ideas. Paradoxically, the lyrical subjects go to extremes to emphasize their individuality. However, at the same time, they strive to remove subjectivity and seek attention while trying to connect with the audience as much as possible.

Antanas Šimkus, a member of the middle generation, in his book Evening on Fire, focuses on personal experiences. However, his lyrical subject evades talking about them. The concept of this poetry collection is to express subjectivity through metaphor, where a person’s thoughts, feelings, and decisions are compared to various objects and phenomena in nature, signs of changing seasons.

Such originality in the poems in Evening on Fire allows the speaker to avoid attention seeking, basking in self-love or self-hate, and allows the reader a more interesting and subtle experience, since the speaker is clearly different from the reader, rather than being similar and requiring empathy. The metaphor of nature that is used to speak about humans is not simply a naive parallelism: in Šimkus’s poems the objects and phenomena of nature and the experiences of the lyrical subject are not just joined by the relation of tautology, but also by conjunction, addition, and contradiction. It would be wrong to believe that the speaker in Evening on Fire suffers from an inner void that is replenished by experiences of nature. Equally wrong would be to suppose that the subject psychologically projects his thoughts and feelings onto nature.

Šimkus’s Evening on Fire creates a relationship between humanity and nature that is theorized and described by writer and literary critic Vytautas Martinkus, along with other authors. It is an intellectual metaphor that requires intentionality, which is based on the phenomenological attitude towards the world, the dominant attitude in the Western humanities since the start of the twentieth century. The modern person is free because they are defined neither by the fundamental works and ideas of his time, nor by power, which is expressed in the institutional relationship between the subject and surroundings, whether they are natural, cultural, or political.

The speaker of Šimkus’s poems neither seeks to learn anything from nature (as is prescribed in the baroque poem Metai, written by Lithuanian classic writer Kristijonas Donelaitis) nor impose his will on nature (as is tradition in western thought since the Renaissance). In Šimkus’s poems, humans and nature are equal interlocutors. This is the essential condition for the existence of the individual in the poems of Evening on Fire: as long as the conversation continues, humanity lives on. Evening on Fire is modern in the sense that it returns the subject into literature, thus ending the individual’s extreme existential attempt to oppose the world and to emphasize their suffering.

The start of Šimkus‘s creative journey is also marked by poems that reveal battles with inner demons. Poetry is used as a means to sublimate inner aggression. Šimkus’s latest book signifies an important change: elaborate forms and literary games no longer interest poets or readers. Šimkus’s collection of poetry rejuvenates the current dominant Western philosophical school of subjectivism. The aftermath of postmodernity marks a return to the problem of the human condition: the subject, which had become so feared in the ’70s and ’80s in Western literature, is now revived. The two decades in question were an attempt to liberate the individual from ideology.

Šimkus’s Evening on Fire describes faith and values adjacent to Christianity. It should be noted that most of the older generation of Lithuanian poets seem to steer their poems towards religiosity. Šimkus is unique for his transformation of the individual\s religious sensibility into wisdom, which is primarily the ability to simply live. The speaker of Evening on Fire reflects on the past and present and is now calmer, more conscious, and aware of the future. With this book, Šimkus cements his position: thought does not necessarily lead to the loss of freedom.

In Evening on Fire, the concept of freedom becomes a framework for the self and the world. Only by being aware of their own limits can a person truly live and experience. The artistic framework in Šimkus’s book is the classical cycle of seasons: the collection starts with winter poems and ends with poems of autumn. Evening on Fire does not present an omniscient subject speaking on the seasons of humanity and nature. Rather, it shows an attempt to shift the empirical change of the seasons towards eternity, which is not pondered, but its presence is nonetheless persistently felt.

The form of Šimkus’s book is yet another metaphor, where the change of seasons takes place along with something that surpasses humanity on this earth and extends its footprint towards infinity. Evening on Fire is the footprint that surpasses the author’s life and resembles the divide between the poet and the lyrical subject. This quality distinguishes Šimkus’s latest book and cements its legacy in literary history as a meditation on time, which is only partly dictated by chronological order. In the end, the conversation between man and nature in Evening on Fire is neither temporal nor provisional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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