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Simonas Bernotas (b. 1993 in Kaunas) is a poet, translator, and publisher. He lives in Vilnius. He holds an MA in Intermediate Literature Studies from Vilnius University. Bernotas's poetry collection Reivas (Rave, published in 2019) earned the Best Debut prize from Lithuanian Ministry of Culture. Bernotas has translated works by such authors as Roberto Bolaño, Nicanor Parra, Federico García Lorca, Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortázar. In 2023, Bernotas published his second poetry collection Pasakų parkas (Park of Folktales).

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Martynas Pumputis

by
Martynas Pumputis

 

 

Translated by Diana Barnard

 

Simonas Bernotas To Undress by Dressing 02Simonas Bernotas. Pasakų parkas (The Fairytale Park). Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2023.

Simonas Bernotas is a poet and translator who debuted in 2019 with a colorful, slim, and well-received poetry collection Reivas (Rave). The back cover of the new collection, Pasakų parkas (The Fairytale Park) contains an excerpt from a poem with a paraphrase of one of the most famous lines in Lithuanian poetry.[1] Except that unlike the twentieth-century modernist Henrikas Radauskas, Bernotas declares, “I no longer believe in fairy tales / I believe in the world.” It establishes an intentional, realistic gaze, a rejection of escapism, and a desire to face the world as it is. Bernotas confirmed his sober relationship with fairy tales in an interview: “Fairy tales are created because reality does not satisfy.”[2] In poetry, such a stance is not new. It reflects Bernotas’s creative tendencies as well as those of other contemporary young poets – confessions of their own experiences, social criticism, and depiction of the world with all of its problems. Young poets in Lithuania embrace looking around and writing about what they see and what they deem meaningful. The question as to what kind of world a person believes in is important, but the most interesting aspect of this collection is not what Bernotas sees but how he depicts what he sees.

Other reviewers have already discussed the spatial ambiguity of the title of the book, in particular, its links to the notorious Fairytale Park in Vilnius. Yet the word “fairy tale” itself has many meanings, with both positive and negative connotations. From fiction as a work of art, there is a shift in the meaning of “fairy tale” to reflect the perfect state or refer to lies (examples from colloquial language: parūkyk, seni, pasaka “take a drag, old man, it’s bliss” and nesek man pasakų “don’t spin tales”). They sometimes overlap. Today’s world and fairy tales (not all, of course) share common features – they are united by the cult of a happy end. In fairy tales, the heroes are rewarded, and good prevails over evil. Economic and technological discourses are constructed in a similar way – presumably, growth and progress always exist, even if at intervals. The slogan of the 2016 World Economic Forum – “You'll own nothing and you'll be happy” – is a kind of a fairy tale that says we're living in the best of times and that we'll live even better in the future.

The depiction of the world in The Fairytale Park stands out for its playfulness. Reality is not laid out directly, but it is not buried under allegories either. It is fused with the fictional world. The elements of the modern world function on the same plane as those of fairy tales, just like in scam emails written by princes (the poem “Clear water from kisielius[3]). This synthesis is best illustrated by the poem “The Prince on a White Horse,” which combines armor and slicked-back hairstyles, wild boar hunting, and the keto diet, while Don Quixotes discover sense in dating apps by swiping left or right on photo-shopped Dulcineas (p. 45). The poem “Audition for a temporary opening of the role of third jester in the circus division of the domestic cultural ties and leisure politics department under the ministry of essential affairs in the kingdom of mirrors” transfers the absurdity of a contemporary job interview to the monarchical system: “Name three of your most important flaws / Do you easily take credit for the achievements of others? / What is two times two? Four? Isn’t that too much? / Are you interested in acrobatics? / Do you juggle swords? / And can you do something else while you’re at it? / In other words, do you multitask?” (p. 55). Maybe it is not all that good with those interviews when CV writing and job interview courses themselves become a business. Although reality is made to look like a fairy tale, it is not done for the author to escape from it. In the collection, the fusion of these two dimensions helps a person to distance themselves from reality and to scrutinize it. Let us take the above-cited examples from the poem “The Prince on the White Horse” – the combination of things that belong to different periods and the time-worn references to Don Quixote make it possible to convey the vanity of contemporary phenomena and to highlight their meaninglessness. The additional garment of fairy tales seemingly denudes the world around us. It is an oxymoronic statement, but it is oxymorons and the paradoxical nature of statements that are repeatedly used in The Fairytale Park. They reveal excessive complexity and incompatibility, a collision of different truths, which prevents us from understanding which is the true one. The lines “50 meters away from a man / With a poster saying / Lies are told 50 meters away” (p. 18) are especially relevant in the age of internet. In the poem “Choose your superpower:” some superpowers are constructed through mutually contradictory, meaning-depriving relationships: “a) to know all languages and remain mute” or “n) to know everything yet be unable to give any sort of advice” (p. 15). Numerous options are open to an individual simultaneously, but the letters in the list add up to “Inolongerwanttochoose.” Among the multitude of questionable perspectives, the most important one – the possibility not to choose – is absent.

Cultural outlook, intertextuality, and the relationship with the world create the image of a cultured vandal (a peculiar strain of Juozas Tysliava's cultured barbarian). In some poems, the more vandalistic aspect stands out (“Draw a phallus on the sun’s disc / So that at noon / All choke” (p. 70), while in others, there is seriousness, a look at the tragic side of history (“Bittersweet guilt / In the Jewish history museum / Which we didn’t visit” (p. 18), “i run into the crowd by the bus stop/ where special buses are waiting / their route is / Žemieji Paneriai–Death” (p. 37) and at the topical issues of the day: “Winter games” voices criticism of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. A perfect synthesis of the two qualities is achieved in the poem “His Majesty the Lyrical Subject.” Currently, another wave of discussion about the poet and playwright Justinas Marcinkevičius has risen in Lithuania, this time prompted by the decision to erect a monument to the writer next to the Lithuanian Writers' Union. Bernotas not only reminds readers of Marcinkevičius’s (who is often referred to as the national poet) semi-official poem dedicated to Lenin but also comically parodies him: “On the Lyrical Subject’s birthday / I will constantly think of him / As I’m scrolling on Facebook” (p. 59). As for the comical nature of the parody, Bernotas, unfortunately, faces a challenge. Marcinkevičius's poem is funnier than any parody. Even if the reader is familiar with the historical context, it is difficult to read the poem and keep a serious face. In the Soviet period, writers had to pay tribute to the Communist Party and its leaders; now poets choose freely to pay tribute to poetry itself. Bernotas seems to poke fun at them, too: “As I’m jacking off in the shower / I will think of him [Lyrical subject – M. P.]” (ibid.). Because neither poetry nor literature in general can be fully trusted – manuscripts are flammable (see p. 66-67).

The Fairytale Park has another side, which considers the feelings of the lyrical subjects. The theme of love recurs. Love is associated with the sad experiences of a young person: unhappy romantic relationships, break-ups followed by loneliness, or simply the inability to communicate with or reach out to the other: “But you / Are drifting away like some Switzerland / That I've never been to / And all this fucks things up, fucks up, fucks up” (p. 69). There are reflections of passing and past time as well as ingenious metaphors (“a slow snail of thought / leaves a track of chemtrails” (p. 40). In her review, Virginija Cibarauskė summarized the variety of forms of the poems in this collection: a poem-vocabulary, a poem-survey, a poem-questionnaire, a poem-song.[4] Thus, The Fairytale Park becomes interesting in content as well as form. The collection ends with another poem exploiting confrontation, “The Great Closing of the Season.” Everything closes, but “poetry will flow non-stop” (p. 82).

Bernotas's collection The Fairytale Park is all-round quality. The poet sets out relevant content in an original way, uses references to other writing meaningfully, and resorts to different forms of poems. All this serves one purpose: to expose the absurdity of certain phenomena, to dismantle the myths of our times, and to create an idiosyncratic relationship with the norms of society and culture. Along with the “big” themes is also a sensitive personal approach with a look at the self, with experiences of love and the passage of time reviled. Thus, the collection is not a one-way body of social criticism and it does not get caught up in monotony.

 

 

1. ‘Pasauliu netikiu, o Pasaka tikiu’ [I don’t believe in the world, yet I believe in a fairy tale], from the poem ‘Pasaka’ [Fairy Tale].

2. https://literaturairmenas.lt/literatura/simonas-bernotas-idirbant-svajones-turi-siek-tiek-didesne-tikimybe-issipildytii

3. Kisielius (kissel or kisel) – usually a starch thickened dish, made with cranberry juice or oats.

4. Cibarauskė V. Mažoji poezija, didžioji poezija ir Pasakų parkas, Literatūra ir menas, 2023, no. 18, p. 27.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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