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Diana Paklonskaitė

I was born on September 3, 1970, in Kaunas and raised in Dzūkija. From 1989 to 1993, I studied at the Kaunas Higher School of Art (formerly known as the Stepas Žukas Technical College). When I came back to Druskininkai, I worked as an artist at the city’s bus park and later as a conductor. I lived in Ireland for 18 years. I currently live in Druskininkai and work at gift and jewelry shops. In my spare time I do pottery, making cups, plates, little cats, and other cute knickknacks out of clay. My poetry has been published in various cultural magazines and anthologies. I have published the poetry books Gilaus mėlynumo (Deep Blue, 2006), Lakštingalų Airijoj nėr (No Nightingales in Ireland, 2014), and Gėlės kaip šunys (Flowers Like Dogs, 2023).

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

by
Lina Buividavičiūtė

 

 

Translated by Diana Barnard and Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

Diana Paklonskaite review 02Diana Paklonskaitė. Gėlės kaip šunys (Flowers Like Dogs). Vilnius: Asociacija “Slinktys”, 2023

Diana Paklonskaitė takes her time to write: her debut poetry collection Gilaus mėlynumo (Deep Blue) appeared in 2006, the second book was published in 2014, and now, after another nine years, her latest collection Gėlės kaip šunys (Flowers Like Dogs), which is reviewed here, has reached readers. I tend to agree with the writer Donald Kajokas, who edited this book: “It shows that the author is not only patient but also extremely demanding of her work: she goes through a long process of checking and polishing each new poem and only then decides to publish it.” The poetry collection seems to be fairly coherent and conceptual, with key leitmotifs systematic developed.

Before opening the book, I noted the original and apt title. “Flowers Like Dogs” presupposes the subject's (im)possibilities to tame nature – basically unknowable strangeness – and to animate its objects. After reading the poems, such interpretations are confirmed and are even open to extension. The poems “Gimtadienio rožės” (“Birthday Roses”) and “Gėlės kaip šunys” (“Flowers Like Dogs”) are closely linked thematically and continue developing the themes encoded in the title. Harnessed for human need, nature is increasingly pointing to the transience and futility of such use. The subject observes the withering beauty of the cut flowers and a peculiar stagnation, the hovering between life and death. The humanization of flowers in the poem works in several ways. The first suggests to the reader that the anthropomorphism of nature and the translation of its language into human language does not produce the desired results, because empathy does not work here: “sadly, i can’t understand them / i can’t feel them / so i keep my squinting my eyes / reading a book and waiting / when they die off by themselves” (17 p.). Birthday flowers remain a temporarily exploited object that defies human categories and understanding. On the other hand, such humanization of roses has another (opposite?) effect: it encourages reflection on human exploitation, transience, a kind of hovering, as with the line “the painful moaning while not being able to die.” And although in another poem the subject encourages the reader not to look for metaphors and not to compare the story of the common moorhen with the fate of a human being out of respect for the bird, the perceptions of the human and nature, or rather the human as nature, seem to me important in Paklonskaitė's poems. This aspect of the end and of ageing resonates with other poems in the book: the theme of old age and ageing is important here, and its direct and indirect expressions and parallels with natural phenomena are impressive. For example, the poem “Paskutinis kūlverstis” (“The Last Somersault”) mentions “old age, porous / and fragile like glass” (p. 26), while the inevitable end, the autumn of life, is metaphorically summed up in the last strophe: “september’s / last somersault / in a pasture overgrazed by cows” (27 p.). This poem links to the next poem, which plays with the intersections and passings of cultures, personal experiences and universals, and metaphors of sunrise and sunset. At the end of the poem, there is a shift from the universal nature of art to personal motifs: “who knows, when I become really old / will I need a cane to help me walk / into the sunset? // my grandfather had a cane the color of buckwheat / with a curved handle / but I never asked him where he got it” (p. 40–41). In some of the poems, the subject's ageing is a sign of them moving closer to nature, of an ever more sensitive ability to touch its various forms: “i’m getting old / living on the edge of town / speaking to animals / more often / than i do to people” (p. 30). In another poem, the subject – a lonely, ageing captain with “a little snow / on his gray wavy hair” – merges increasingly with the living world and experiences perhaps the greatest possible harmony, a kind of acknowledgement of nature, when even the cows “flare their nostrils / and moo / as they follow him.” The correlation between ageing and merging with nature is beautifully shown in the first poem of the collection. Its ending, where a human and a tree merge into one, is particularly eloquent: “the answer lies in the gaze / piercing me from somewhere within / sprouting leaves like it’s April / as a small drop of sap runs / from the corner of my eye” (9 p.).

Many poems in the collection are filled with the subject's love for and sensitivity to the living world. One of the most outstanding texts is “Sliekų satsangas” (“Earthworm Satsang”). This term (the essence of the practices of striving to higher consciousness, meditations) is attributed to a ringed worm which by its natural patient activity creates the life of the Earth and obeys the laws of ecosystems.

As is obvious from the poem “Birthday Roses” discussed above, when writing about nature, Paklonskaitė embraces naming the proximity and the beauty she experiences as well as problematic aspects such as misunderstanding, indifference, disrespect, and excessive exploitation. The tension arises from humankind’s irresponsible activities: the excavators that pour rubble on the sweet yellow clover or the teens throwing empty cigarette packets into the river.

The uniqueness of the book is also evident in the poems which at first glance seem to address a totally different subject matter: the experiences of living in Dublin. Here, the most interesting motifs are those of homelessness. I was particularly impressed by the poem “Dublino benamiai” (“Dublin Vagabonds”), which is an encounter of two realities and attempts to understand the self and the other, the marginalized person. It is a reflection on the (im)possibility and necessity of help, on the conditions for truly seeing the other, for a meeting. In another poem, “Geltonas puodelis” (“A Yellow Cup”), two realities meet again: the subject, who is protected (from the other?) by a “tastelessly striped broken beach umbrella,” and the potter selling his wares outside Dublin Castle and not protected by anything. The potter's imperfect product, a yellow cup with an “(un)intentionally burnt fingerprint,” connects people from different worlds.

The experiences of two cultures, Lithuanian and Irish motifs, are also captivating. I was intrigued by the references to the work in a factory and to the prison in Alytus and even wished for these elements to be expanded. The relationship and dialogue with the works of Lithuanian poets who are important to her are relevant to Paklonskaitė, yet I must admit I found the nature and urban poems more interesting. The ironic piece about the Poetry Spring festival stood out in the theme of creativity and its reflection: the subject of the poem was not allowed to attend poetry readings (a beautiful confrontation between poets).

Paklonskaitė's work attracts through the sincere relationship of its subject with nature and the unexpected linguistic solutions when reflecting and writing about life. The multi-faceted city, where, as in nature, everyone has their own place and niche, is also impressive. Because we all – the earthworms, the flowers, and the homeless – are part of the ecosystems of this world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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