Archive for October, 2017

Why Vilnius rules. On people and monuments | Versopolis

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, a small post-Soviet Baltic state. It also used to be the capital of The Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), with its first written reference dating as early as the 14th century. Lithuania is a young democratic country with long and difficult history to match, winters that will get on your nerves, and one of the oldest languages in the world. Linguists studying the ancient Indo-European languages, chiefly Sanskrit, learn Lithuanian first, because they are closely related: Similar in conjugations, pronouns, names for body parts and structure of a great number of words. Naturally, there have always been many languages spoken in Vilnius: Lithuanian, Yiddish, Polish, Russian, and now also English.

During the interwar period, as Lithuania had lost possession of Vilnius, as well as the Baltic coast, Lithuanians only constituted 2% of the residents of the city. The number only increased after World War II, with Vilnius returned to Lithuania again. For several centuries, it had been a city of Poles and Litvaks, mostly, an interesting crossroad of cultures. Only Jerusalem and Vilnius are said to have so many different temples so close to each other: Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelist, Uniate, Judaist…

Vilnius does have a special Vilnian charm. Baltic states remain a terra incognita to the Western civilization. Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn are confused with each other. So…

What makes Vilnius special?

Many things, really. Vilnian Baroque, established by Silesian architect, Johann Christoph Glaubitz, for instance, and Litvak culture – for several centuries, Vilnius used to be the spiritual center of Ashkenazi Jews, often referred to as the Northern Jerusalem. This is where writer and Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz studied, this is where his friend, Joseph Brodsky, another Nobel laureate, partied. French writer Romain Gary, the only writer ever to win two Goncourt Prizes, was born here. Some wonderful Yiddish-language poets lived in Vilnius – my beloved Moyshe Kulbak, Abraham Sutzkever. Of course, many interesting Lithuanian writers also worked in Vilnius – Žemaitė, S. Nėris and others.

Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva’s letters to her Vilnian friend were found recently. Polish Romanticist poet Adam Mickiewicz studied here – there’s a monument to him in Paris, too. Born in Vilnius was Jewish anarchist, writer, activist and prisoner, Alexander Berkman, the significant other of the most dangerous woman in the US, in the beginning of 20th century, also Litvak, Emma Goldman. The students of Vilnius Academy of Arts – mostly Jews from around the present-day Lithuania, Belarus and Poland – moved to Paris in early 20th century, forming the second wave of École de Paris, which made a great impact on Western modernism.

One text is evidently not enough to fully reveal the love I have for Vilnius. So let’s do it in a simpler way: I’ll tell you how this whole cultural variety is displayed in the city’s monuments and sculptures.

Four Lithuanian Writers

The central street of Vilnius – Gedimino prospektas – is where she sits: Žemaitė (Julija Beniuševičiūtė-Žymantienė, 1845–1921). A woman in a rustic headscarf and with a pipe. The latter was left out, in the Soviet monument – it was probably considered unattractive: A woman with a pipe, yuck… An impoverished, noble-born girl came to Vilnius from Žemaitija, Western Lithuania. She would walk barefoot because, according to her, “stones tear up the shoes.” She brought up 7 children with her husband, and fell in love with another man 30 years her junior, who later married her daughter. A decided feminist, she took part in the first Lithuanian women’s congress, in 1907. During World War I, on the eve of her 70th birthday, she decided to go to America. Even there, out of eccentricity, she kept the accessory of a countrywoman – the headscarf. It remained the detail of the writer’s personal style.

Next to this monument, feminist readings take place. Me and my friends placed a colorful balaclava helmet on Žemaitė’s head once – after the picket to support the Pussy Riot girls, who were in prison at that time, when we still liked them. In short, this monument is full of life, and Žemaitė Square turns sometimes into an interesting public space.  . . . .

Source: Why Vilnius rules. On people and monuments | Versopolis


Changing Iterations of Motherhood in Recent Lithuanian Poetry by Women | Versopolis

Tačiau buvo aišku – ji nekalba, kad

nepapasakotų kam nors ko nereikia,

ir kad mes išgyventume.

– Giedrė Kazlauskaitė

from “Silentium”


We began to understand – she remains silent

To avoid saying what doesn’t need to be said,

Keeping our lives safe.

–Giedrė Kazlauskaitė

[Translated by Rimas Užgiris]

On the other side of the spectrum, and yet part of the same cultural phenomenon, there is Giedrė Kazlauskaitė‘s poetic output. Born in 1980, and in contrast to the two poets discussed above, Kazlauskaitė is a well-established figure of Lithuanian literary life, author of five books, of which three are poetry collections that have won numerous literary awards. She is an editor of one of the major literary newspapers, Šiaurės Atėnai, openly gay and a mother of a daughter whom she brings up with her long-term female partner. Her poetic universe differs from the confessional writing characteristic of the collections discussed earlier in the article, in that it enjoys a strong intellectual and erudite quality, which is reflected in Kazlauskaitė’s formal literary success. Her first collection of poetry, Heterų dainos (Hetaera Songs), evokes the conflict between her sexuality and the desire for motherhood, as well as guilt for having made the transgressive decision to become a mother in the heteronormative society that is contemporary Lithuania. However, the collection of poems entitled Meninos, published in 2014, the same year as Pilipauskaitė-Butkienė’s debut book, features a very important poem, which can be read as a public coming out, entitled “Silentium.” It is a narrative poem telling the story of the poetic persona’s daughter’s delayed speech acquisition, and its rootedness in the secrecy of her homosexual relationship with the co-mother of the daughter. . . .

Source: Changing Iterations of Motherhood in Recent Lithuanian Poetry by Women | Versopolis


Source: A Longhouse Birdhouse: LONGHOUSE BIBLIOGRAPHY TO DATE ~

Seamus Heaney | 3quarksdaily: Wednesday Poem

The First Words

[from the Romanian of Marin Sorescu]

The first words got polluted
Like river water in the morning
Flowing with the dirt
Of blurbs and the front pages.
My only drink is meaning from the deep brain,
What the birds and the grass and the stones drink.
Let everything flow
Up to the four elements,
Up to water and earth and fire and air.

by Seamus Heaney
from The Spirit Level
Farrar Straus Giroux, NY, 1996

Source: 3quarksdaily: Wednesday Poem

Satoru Kanematsu haiku at David McMurray’s Column – HIA HAIKU INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION

A long way
to go with haiku
deep autumn

Satoru Kanematsu


What is Haiku? with Hana Fujimoto & Emiko Miyashita, Haiku International Association, Japan – YouTube


“When you write haiku you know where you are.” – Emiko Miyashita