For an essay A Nation Sings Out by Laima Sruoginis
J.C. Todd's Introduction to this Lithuanian feature in riverviews
For J.C.'s other columns on Lithuania:
International Poetry Festival
To visit the Anelauskas website with important essays on Lithuanian poetry, including:
Reflections on the Poetry of Contemporary Lithuania by Kornelijus Platelis, Sigitas Geda, Laurynas Katkus, Giedre Kazlauskaite, and Mindaugas Kvietkauskas.
Poet Kornelijus Platelis:
I do not observe many changes in our poetics in the years since
Independence. Traditional Lithuanian poetics of the first half of the
twentieth century are based on syllabotonic schemes with strictly rhymed
lines, though there are many examples of syllabic versification in our
old folk songs. This tradition was powerfully supported by Soviet censors
in the first years after the World War II. The censorship began to lose its
position in the 60's under the pressure of poets who were not in bad relations
with the regime. In the 70's and 80's poetic forms became more or less free and
available to everybody. Therefore, the most intensive fights for freedom of form
and the strongest pathos of form were in these years. There were two main
camps of “traditionalists” and “modernists” at that time although the
“modernists” ere very far from any stylistic homogeneity. All of them were trying
to find their own voice and had their own approaches to tradition as it is now
when tension in our literary life is not so high.
Poet Sigitas Geda, translated by Ursuala Geda:
Poet Laurynas Katkus:In the gigantic machinery of the world, poetry plays the role of a shock absorber or synchroniser, which allows other parts to function without falling apart. If poetry would change as quickly as commercial ads or clothing fashion, we would soon be living in a society consisting only of psychiatrists and their patients, and the question would be, which one of them is less mad.
Nevertheless, poets have their own winter to pass through. It does not correspond directly with political and social changes, but no doubt is affected by them. After the Independence, Lithuanian society had to change from the rear gear of socialism to the high gear of capitalism, if it wanted to catch up to those sexy racing cars bearing the inscriptions “Marlboro” and “West”. For the poetry it meant that from now on it was completely free—with all consequences, good or bad. The support, the public attention to literature shrank drastically, although, curiously enough, the prestige of it remained quite high. Many poets, especially of the older generation, did not pass this test. They started reproducing themselves, or turned poetry into half-bohemian, half-nationalistic lifestyle.
But in the few last years, here and there I notice a murmur, a bubble, a drop of words, which show that another brand of poetry is coming. I do not care whether it comes from the mouth full of blood, of foreign words, or amphetamyn tablets, as long as there is ferment in it. It sounds in an void, but I am sure that is an advantage. The poet from a provincial country, with a not widely spoken language, has less to care about than the poet writing in a “world” language and living in a cultural centre such as Berlin or New York. Writing in Lithuania, which is probably not the ass of the world as one of our writers has put it, but still the lowland, the poet acquires a strange, kind of froggish perspective to global events. By froggish, I mean as in cinema, where the word is used for the perspective from below, for instance, from the earth up to a standing big man. If the writer is able to use his strange, eccentric, unexpected perspective, the better for all; if he doesn't succeed, nobody cries.
I think the future belongs to the openeyed, mindful poetry, elegaic and ironic at the same time.
Poet Giedre Kazlauskaite:
Poetry is looking for new forms of expression and the opportunity to find its niche in forming the national mentality.
Poet Mindaugas Kvietkauskas:
To answer the question “what is poetry?” What poetry isn't — is also an important part of the question, as Lithuanian literature has been changing rapidly since 1988, moving away from the totalitarian past. Of course, every poet has his particular answers. Still there are some attitudes common for the main part of Lithuanian poetic community.
First of all, what Lithuanian contemporary poetry isn't. Now it doesn't have any direct political purposes, which were raised in it in the circumstances of silent struggle against the totalitarianism; no longer is poetry a careful guardian of Lithuanian national traditions, which are mostly rooted in the rural culture; poetry in Lithuania is also in opposition and alien to the mass and commercial culture; and we still archaically believe that poetry is not just a masterly game of words or a perfect dance of textual signs and structures.
The senior generation of Lithuanian modernists - Vytautas P. Bloze, Sigitas Geda, Marcelijus Martinaitis, Tomas Venclova - have revealed the possibilities of poetry as a language of deep mythological images, of collective subconsciousness and of the classical cultural heritage. The middle generation, born on 1950's, — Nijole Miliauskaite, Kornelijus Platelis, Donaldas Kajokas, — derives poetical inspiration more from the dialogue between temporary or paradoxical individual existence and the totality of the world and culture, from the struggle between the Eastern intuition and the Western rationality. In the texts of the young generation, which began publishing books after 1988 (Aidas Marcenas, Sigitas Parulskis, Gintaras Grajauskas and others) poetry is often connected with the sense of silence and emptiness and that signifies the retreat of the modern tradition and the fresh openness to the personal authenticity. Lately the tendencies of realism, narrativism and minimalism are distinct in the poetry of the youngest.