Birutė Grašytė-Black was born in the midsummer of 1992, and grew up in Grašiai village, Utena district.  She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Lithuanian philology from the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, and with a master's degree in literary anthropology and culture from Vilnius University.  In 2022, her book I Paid with Lilac Leaves won the Lithuanian Writers’ Union’s first book competition.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Nerijus Cibulskas

Lina Buividavičiūtė



 Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas


Birute Grasyte review 02Birutė Grašytė-Black, Sumokėjau alyvmedžio lapais, Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla. - V.: 2022

Birutė Grašytė-Black has won the First Book Contest (poetry section) organized by the Lithuanian Writers’ Union. I spoke with the author last year and wished her luck in the contest. I had already heard and read some of her work – Birutė’s poems are vivid and laconic yet capacious, and I recall in them the particularly striking mythological imagery of devils. I awaited the book. And now, I finally hold it in my hands, able to share my thoughts on it.

I’m tempted to begin with the motifs of Lithuanian folklore. I would venture to say that these provide the foundation for the whole book – spirits, old riddles and folk tales, and numerous signs of the Devil’s presence. What’s interesting is that Grašytė-Black takes these primary mythological motifs and imbues them with a level of personal significance, offering an authentic interpretation. The original approach usually results in a conversion of meaning, even in the direction of the absurd. For example, an untitled poem (p. 42) narrates how a “bay steed” is purchased, bred, and fed. The poem builds the story as if in anticipation of some grand, magical finale, but the steed is merely sold for beer (and some bubblegum for the kids). It makes the reader contemplate the depreciation and desacralization occuring at the juncture of times – the steed, previously a companion throughout the most important stages of human life, becomes a disposable tool; thus, previous meanings lose their significance. Literary critic Linas Daugėla refers to Grašytė-Black’s poetry as that which “plays on the factor of surprise especially well, giving the reader a cold shower, making them stop and think.”

The motif of the Devil functions in a different way. The poems that refer to the Devil’s image do not seem to voice any ironic or absurd perspectives – perhaps because the Devil is viewed from a child’s perspective, while all folkloric motifs related to it are magnified and diluted by fear. The superstitions and spoken formulas found in an untitled poem (p. 16) act as a protective amulet in the poetic universe. The subject in the poems “Andriaus velnias” is presented as a four-year-old girl sitting on her grandmother’s lap, “cradling the Devil’s children,” and although “the Devil begins to look around the sauna for mirrors” (p. 44), the subject is protected by the magical properties of dreams or mountain ash (in Lithuanian mythology this plant is believed to ward off evil spirits) as well as by her grandmother’s embrace.

It can be generally said that the childhood world is especially important in Grašytė-Black’s poetry. The author states on the back cover of the book: “The symbols in my poetry can be traced to the world of my childhood, full of light and darkness and things I cannot explain. This world is muted and suppressed, but it comes back in dreams, echoing, whispering, remaining present, and intertwining with the past.” The last and perhaps a principal poem in the book attests to the author’s statement: “My childhood stands / Posed for stepmother’s picture / Frozen in place” (“Childhood,” p. 60). So although childhood is there to be photographed by the stepmother, and it must obey and stay still, it nevertheless exists, preserved in these pictures of memory, reinvented and reimagined in the poetry of the present.

Grašytė-Black emphasizes the foundations that the past provides for personal development, especially in terms of the time spent growing up in the countryside, in the presence of nature, and in Grandmother’s embrace, which allows the subject to understand the laws of life and death. Life experience is to be earned through books and spending time outdoors and in harmony with nature: (p. 14): “I stood near the cow being milked, / Learning the multiplication table, / Hundreds of riddles and proverbs, / The calculation of the proximity of lightning, / The conversation with the echo – / It still remembers my name.”

In these poems, death is intertwoven with life, refining the sensation that today’s perspective touches upon the things that are no longer accessible in the present reality. Thus, this tangible yet ephemeric presence of the past manifests itself in dreams. For instance, the subject wishes to and is moved to a safe, dreamlike environment – to the childhood village, a meeting point for the ephemeral and the eternally spiritual.

Grašytė-Black’s poetry is born from memory, from experience, from the salt of life and the reality of death, from that which was felt, from that which escapes the net of meaning – these “fish” can only be caught by a poem.

To conclude, a few thoughts on the book’s title. The whole world is paid for in olive leaves. The connotations of the olive tree from history, mythology, or the Bible seem relevant to the discussion. Athena’s staff earns her victory in a competition between the gods by growing an olive tree. In the Bible, the dove returns after the deluge with a freshly plucked olive branch in its beak – a symbol of prosperity, life, and a new beginning. It seems that the poetic subject’s “currency” is valuable, “sacred,” making the things that are paid for especially precious and meaningful. The poem “Raven” depicts the bird gathering hawthorns in a dreamlike world. The symbolism associated with this plant has to do with protection from evil forces, abundance, and family blessings. So the title of the review is not incidental either – let the raven bear the olive branch, thus embodying both life and death. I believe that life prevails, at least in dreaming and poetry.



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