Dovilė Bagdonaitė (b. 1991) is a visual artist and poet. A graduate of the Vilnius Academy of Arts, Bagdonaitė earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in monumental painting before pursuing a doctoral degree and receiving the title of Doctor of Arts in 2022. She’s active in the field of visual art and has created works for display in the public spaces of Vilnius.

Bagdonaitė published her first poetry book Blue Whale’s Heart in 2016 after the manuscript earned her the first place in the LWU’s First Book Competition. She has also published poetry in Šiaurės atėnai, Kreivės magazine, and Poetry Spring anthologies. Bagdonaitė’s second book Tracks_in_the_grass was published in 2022 and short-listed by the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore among the Top 12 Most Creative Books of 2022 and the Top 5 Poetry Books of 2022.

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Nerijus Cibulskas

Lina Buividavičiūtė



 Translated by Diana Barnard


Birute Grasyte review 02Dovilė Bagdonaitė, Takeliai_žolėje, V.: Bazilisko ambasada, 2022.

Dovilė Bagdonaitė made her debut with the collection of poems Mėlynojo banginio širdis (The Heart of the Blue Whale) after winning the First Book competition organized by the Lithuanian Writers' Union. I was curious to see how her literary career would develop further: when I was reading her first book, I felt that Bagdonaitė had yet untapped creative power and space, that she could go further and deeper. This happens in her second poetry collection, Takeliai_žolėje (Tracks in the Grass): the book is a pleasant surprise, both in terms of its themes and expression. The author improved significantly. She kept searching and… poetry happened.

The first thing that catches the eye while reading the poems in the second book is their visuality, the use of personal experience while studying at the Vilnius Academy of Arts and operating in the field of art. The inspirations for these creative experiences are palpable in the form of the poems, their expression, and their subject matter. In Bagdonaitė's poems, art is not next to life – it is life itself. Art is history created and being created – it is reality. Religious and cultural symbols saturate the living world. For example, in the poem “Iš atvaizdo antropologijos konspektų” (“From the notes of the anthropology of the image”), the body is treated as an “image-bearer,” and by putting on Bacchus regalia, it is possible to incarnate the self into the deity. When art becomes life, the miracle of personification can happen: “once/it was/shot/at/an image/and/it/spilled/blood/like/alive” (p. 8). And although it sometimes seems to the lyrical subject that art, the theory and practice of studies, the long sleepless nights when seeking to “press the cheeses of the monotypes” push away the reality outside the window, the flow of existence, the reality breaks through the thick walls of the academy in a naked (in the literal sense of the word), brutal, and ironic manner: “That day, the sitter shat himself and smeared/the walls of the toilet, it was the weekend, the whole floor /stank, nobody was dedicated enough to wash them off/who would dare to say that learning art is easy/each step of the way somebody is always splashing excrement” (“Akademinis piešimas” [“Academic drawing”], p. 9). In general, the city, art and nature form an essential triad in Bagdonaitė’’s poetry. Its elements speak to one another, not in denial but in a complementary way: the city and the water, the cinema and the grass, the kitsch and the high art – all that create a full-blooded, functioning poetic world. And that world is being created out of an opening lid of a grand piano and soil under the fingernails, of writing and blood, of bicycles and kayaks, of grounding and wandering.

Marius Burokas, the editor of the book, notes its chameleonic nature: “sentiment is replaced by bravado, Paris landscapes by kayaking, and tenderness by irony” (a quote on the back cover of the book). I noticed that this kind of change in Bagdonaitė’s book was characteristic not only between different texts but, often, also within a text itself. For example, different cultures collide in the poem “Plaukimas kalnų upe/white water rafting” (Sailing the river/white water rafting (“oi liūlia leliumoj oi white water rafting,” p. 33), while in “Katakombų naktis” (“The night of the catacombs), poeticisms and lyricism are replaced by colloquial language, “the bones of the earth surface” – the flesh of life. This chameleon effect is also prominent at the junction of poetic and prose language. I noticed that the poems that were closer to confessional texts were often more prosaic, for example, “Užklupęs sentimentalumas” (“Caught by sentimentality”).

Another important aspect of Bagdonaitė's poetry is daring expressions of erotic experience and queer culture. The lyrical subject not only speaks about her own sexuality, but also observes and attempts to verbalize the eros of the Other (“Cité des arts”). The author takes an original approach to the already worn-out union of Eros and Thanatos, articulating the encounter of death and life at a funeral wake (“Nuodėminga vaizduotė” [“Sinful imagination”]). I would consider the aforementioned articulation of queer experiences and relevant social issues a major strength. In my opinion, highly valuable in this respect is one of the strongest poems in the book, is “Eilėraštis, kurį parašė mano mama, o man teliko ištaisyti klaidas” (“A poem that my mother wrote, and I only had to correct the mistakes”). The lyrical subject reveals a painful story of non-acceptance, of tenacious stereotypes which affects even the closest family members: “I was looking at the whole column/you looked/so pathetic with those/pink masks/And some sort of Native American/music. You looked like/sheep driven to a slaughterhouse’ [...] It’s strange that you/are so afraid of corona/and not afraid of AIDS?” (88 p.).
Bagdonaitė's work contains other important existence, the living world, and reality: the fluidity of time, aging, ecological problems. Another poem that I particularly liked speaks subtly about loss, the impact of human actions on nature, on a person’s self, and on the Other: “the future crawls on all fours/it will bury us all/like photographs/in an album/insects/Sunday's ornaments in mother-of-pearl shells/wave-washed rubbish the stains of spilled/petrol in the field" (“Albumo vartymas” [Browsing an Album], p. 36).

A whole chapter of the book presenting exclusively concrete, visual poetry deserves a separate discussion. It drops strong hints to the author's creative ingenuity, imagination, and experience in the field of visual arts. There are tracks in the grass, there are video tracks – art and nature, word and image, symbol and sign come together yet again. “Mylimosios spenelis” (“The nipple of the beloved”) and “ar ateisi šiandien?” (“will you come today?”) were the poems that impressed me most in this part.

It should also be noted that the author’s use of intertextual references – literary, artistic, philosophical, and historical – is very creative.

To sum up, Bagdonaitė managed to go far in her discussions with art, philosophy, the living world, and its realities, as well as with herself, and with the poetic subject created. As the introduction to this collection of poems says, “the taxonomy of book tracks is inadequate/unsuitable in Borges’s manner.” And it is very good. Crooked/curved enough, in a good sense, to be interesting.




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