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Greta Ambrazaitė (b. 1993 in Vilnius) is a poet, editor, musician, translator, and publisher. She holds an MA in Literary Anthropology and Culture from Vilnius University. Her second poetry book, ADELA, appeared in 2022.

Ambrazaitė's debut poetry collection Fragile Things (Trapūs daiktai, 2018) earned the Young Yotvingian Prize as a best young poet’s book and was announced as the 2018 Poetry Book of the Year. She was awarded the Young Artist’s Prize by the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture in 2019. Her poems have been translated into several foreign languages.

Ambrazaitė has translated poems by such poets as  Borges, Cortázar, and Pizarnik and edited the anthology of young Georgian poets Aidintys/ექო  published in 2021.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Dovilė Kuzminskaitė

by
Dovilė Kuzminskaitė

 

 

Photo by Nina Rivas
Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

Birute Grasyte review 02Greta Ambrazaitė. Adela. Lithuanian Writers’ Union Publishing House, 2022

Since publishing her first book of poetry, Greta Ambrazaitė has been known for her unique voice and as a representative of the contemporary Lithuanian literature scene. Her poetry is marked by its distinctive aesthetic of darkness and the author’s metaphorically dense language. Ambrazaitė’s poetic debut Fragile Things (Lithuanian Writers’ Union Publishing House, 2018) encompassed a wide thematical spectrum, while its axis, it seems, rested on the very act of constructing a poetic language; I’d say that Fragile Things was an exercise in poetry. In her new poetry collection Adela (Lithuanian Writers’ Union Publishing House, 2022), Ambrazaitė retains her position of distance, observing the world as if she were looking through cracked glass. However, thematically the book is more consistent, while the author’s attempts to abandon conventional language are less of an obstacle in interpreting its meaning.

Adela is Ambrazaitė’s tribute to her family’s history. Based on the figure of her great-great-grandmother whom the author never met (in Greta’s own words – a phantom roaming the waters of her heart), she reflects on family relationships and observes herself and her environment through true or fictionalized memories. Such an approach is best illustrated by the second poem in the book, titled “How I Gazed at My Grandmother’s Hands”: “Hands are inherited with a plucked lilac branch, with rings / from the nameless finger, with sun-spots / blueberry brooches, / chess pieces, afghans, beetles, herbal soup, a child’s / cosmos that cowers in its cradle, wanting to be rocked again” (p. 15). This and other poems in the book often show the lyrical subject in a state of observation, recognition (or failure thereof), and a search for connections, creating continuity between that which was and that which may be from personal and universal history.

However, the reader who picks up the book and skims the annotation believing they’re sure of what Adela is about will be left confused: Ambrazaitė does not maintain a steady line of family testimony, with the poems in this collection fluctuating from personal narration to abstraction and from outward observation to speaking from an inner perspective. Some poems (albeit rare) remain suspended mid-air, concerned more with aesthetic than meaning (e.g., the poem “What’s the mailing address for the fox” reads like an allusion to a Gothic style yet does not go any further, paling in comparison to other poems in the book). As themes and perspectives change, so do the forms of the poems: Ambrazaitė experiments with visual poetry and plays with the layout of the text on the book’s pages, thus expanding its poetics beyond the meanings of just the words themselves. Thus, contrary to what may be expected, Adela does not offer a straight line of memory and reflection and instead twirls and contorts around form and theme, until, ultimately, the last poem “Sky lamps” returns the reader to the starting point, emphasizing the importance of inquiry and an analytical perspective:  “one day if we run out of questions – / stop minding antiques / news and the arts / encyclopedias and insurgencies – / suddenly we’d see / how fleet we’ve become from ditching responsibility” (p. 84).  

The sociohistorical and at the same time intimate approach seen in the poems of Adela does not push Ambrazaitė from the boundaries of her usual poetic speech. As in her first book of poetry, here, too, the poet writes in images, her words first appearing in visual form in the reader’s imagination, as the layer of meaning remains somewhere beyond the thicket of imagery. In other words, Ambrazaitė gathers the material of reality and instead of directly putting it into her writing, she transfers it to another creative stratum, thus distancing herself from straightforward confession. For example, we might suspect that the poem “Gems” refers to the political events that have taken the world by storm since  February (“Each morning in the country where nothing is happening / gems of time fall out the window / […] today in the country where nothing is happening / they’re not shattered by salvos of rockets / not looted in bloodied trailers / not rigged with explosives,” p. 23), but she touches upon sensitive subjects in a very delicate way. Ambrazaitė does not appropriate, while allusions seemingly to trauma carried on from one generation to the next are also established from a distance: “this spring the gems inlaid under my skin / tingle like never before” (p. 23).

Reading Adela feels like fumbling about a dark room in a stranger’s home: you get a hold of certain contours in the dimness, touching unfamiliar objects, observing your own sensations or emotional reactions, and perhaps only then approaching a hypothesis about the space itself as well as the people who live there. It seems like poetics such as these are becoming more established in contemporary Lithuanian literature: here worthy of mention are poets Ernestas Noreika and Dominykas Norkūnas, who also transform reality into dense, surreal imagery based on contradiction and tension. However, Ambrazaitė’s style is different in how she approaches linguistic material and syntactic structures. Some of the passages in Adela read as if the sentences were artificially constructed, translated from a foreign language and unrefined, aged on purpose. Again, such an aesthetic artificiality is quite well-supported by the book’s religious leitmotifs, which, in my opinion, serve the text more as stylistic artifacts rather than authentic references to the norms and forms of Catholicism.

It must be said that the attentive work done by Sigutė Chlebinskaitė, the book’s designer, imbues Ambrazaitė’s poetry book with an added level of impact: Chlebinskaitė incorporates a personal object from the poet’s life – a photograph of Great-great-grandmother Adela – into the book’s design and arranges its sections according to the letters of her name, while the spectral purple color unifies the whole book. Its design suggests to the reader that Adela is a living organism that communicates with the reader: the photograph falls into the reader’s hands while they turn the book’s pages. This hints at the sensation of discovery and surprise, customary of perusing family archives. Thus, Ambrazaitė’s Adela becomes more than a mere object – the reading of this book is an exercise in memorial archeology and an original performance in poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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