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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Mikalojus Povilas Vilutis, Drawing Out My Fear, 2019. Paper, ink, 64 x 90 cm. From the MO Museum collection.

Vilnius Review will now feature a new column. Before the year ends, we plan to present 10 young poets and prose writers who haven’t yet published books but who have been noted for their involvement in the literary scene, including periodicals, literary readings, and youth contests. For many of these authors, the magazine offers a first step into the foreign space because we will be publishing the first English translations of their work. Equally, this is an opportunity for the foreign reader, interested in the literatures of Lithuania and other small countries, to discover the names of these budding young writers and their opinions on writing as well as appreciate the lively pulse of literature in development.

Saulius Vasiliauskas

 

 

Photo by Emija Grigorjeva

URŠULĖ TOLEIKYTĖ

I was born on the 2nd of November 1992. I’m from a seaside town, but I moved to Vilnius after graduating high school. I have a degree in psychology, while my current research interests are in sociology. My creative pursuits are poetry and theater.

 

 

For a Safer World

 

when I was fifteen

we searched restrooms for hidden cameras

with my friend

who said we’re being followed

she also said

that aliens are coming to get us

it’s forbidden for us to walk alone at night

but we did

we wanted to see the aliens and their almond-shaped heads

their long slender hands

and when my friend saw

the cameras the aliens and other suspicious objects

they stuck her with a needle

in the white hallways

she was beautiful when she slept

as if she were snow white

waiting to be kissed

any

time

now

by the seven dwarfs

so that she could wake up in a safe world

 

she woke up

but the world wasn’t safer

even by the gram of an almond

her hands shook as she painted her lips

and smiled toward summer street

 

I remember how beautiful she was

full of paranoid voices

that aren’t real in the white hallways

that turn out to be true

 

where are you now

 

FICTION

the word rings in your head

as your body goes numb

when you pay the pharmacist

for a safer world

 

 

 

I Had to Forget

 

you wanted to take her hand

to stop her from feeding a hungry dog

I didn’t hear any words

only a dog’s bark

I saw how it drooled

seeing her hand

so soft and chaste

like from a renaissance painting

a heaven made by a brush

which I think I won’t enter

I try to remember

whether I’ve been there or not

I check the print of a winged creature

between my nose and lips

still there

I had to forget

but I remember it all

standing outside the frame

the dog was asking to go out

 

 

 

10 days

 

10 days

only 10 days

you need to stay calm

putting one foot in front of the other

making the slightest step

like that time you were holding the porcelain cup

your aunt got you for your ninth birthday

 

10 days

only 10 days

you need to anchor your thoughts

and look through the window

at the same crow that always flies by at the same time

perhaps you’ll see her outside

maybe you’ll even ask her

“still trying to forget?”

 

10 days

only 10 days

and you’ll know

who will ditch you when the tower of matches falls

and who will pull at your limbs from the pile

reinforce the construction and the network of blood vessels

and send that SOS message:

how are you?

 

10 days

only 10 days

and you’ll step out into the street

and swap blood plasma

with each passerby

and it won’t hurt anymore

it won’t hurt like this ever

 

and if the 10 days are up and it hurts

the count begins again

like lunar phases in the gardener’s calendar

who then will cover your knees which crack

when the moon hits the first quarter

who will count to 10

 

10 days my dear

and you’ll know

now go to sleep

 

10

          9

                    8

                              7

                                        6

                                   5

                           4

                    3

          2

1

               1

 

 

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

Photo by Deividas Stankūnas

HAROLDAS BAUBINAS

I was born in 1992 in Klaipėda, currently I live in Vilnius. My creative impetus is grounded in a very intense inner rage and a predisposition to be disgusted by social norms, so my texts are rehabilitative attempts at finding myself in this absurd reality. I like to observe various perversions, obsessions, addictions, and motives of lust, madness, and the absurd, which at the end of the day leave us with indelible, unforgettable, authentic experiences.

 

 

one ton of potatoes

 

box after box

icy pallet after icy pallet

i’m steering them deeper into the factory

after me

one ton of frozen potatoes

sometimes my cranky long-forked Betsy

slips and

skids on the turn

almost hitting the pallet rack

 

her faulty horn

sounds like the hollow wail

of an old tramp

who spent her life smoking

contraband cigarettes

drinking the cheapest gin

and cursing

her brakes barely work

sometimes the steering wheel jams

the hydraulic system screeches in pain

when it lifts a heavy load of pallets

but for some reason

death hasn’t yet erased her

or me

from the books

 

night after night

cold month after the month’s cold

despair steers me

after the frozen potatoes

deeper into the icy

innards of my personal hell

my slippy existence

skids on the turn and i hit

my overloaded rack of pallets

thousands of tons of pressure

fall down

crushing me

burying me

 

 

 

dog-rose

 

reading the teachings of Buddha

on enlightenment

and other states

inconceivable to a consciousness

eclipsed by the ego

i found a parable

about a lotus flower growing upon

a heap of rubbish on the highway

attracting passersby and giving joy

with its sweet scent

 

my existence is

a drunk heap of shit

lying by a dirt road

and this is my body

from which a dog-rose has sprouted

that reeks of cigarette butts

and the piss

of feral dogs

it latches its thorns

on the robe

of an unwary drifter

it slashes the hides of predators

making deep wounds

that heal slowly

it glares in the distance

from the trash

that’s stuck in its branches

broken beer bottle shards

and lost underwear

 

it is by far

not the worst

that could happen

it’s much worse

to be a well-trimmed lawn

with another identical

synthetic doormat

on the porch

of an exemplary

statistical unit

 

there

to wipe

your feet

 

 

 

collective cold

 

yet again we’re suspended one floor

above the swirling syringes

and the beautiful snow covering

the putrefying corpse of the earth

in the dark

above the circus freaks

above the circulating dung flies and sawdust

we’re sitting in the last row

of a stuffed soviet apartment

eating the beautiful snow

that covers faces

who haven’t been sober

in a long time but are so

painfully familiar

 

 

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

  Photo from personal archive

 

ALINA BORZENKAITĖ

I was born on June 20, 1996, in Vilnius. I studied history and heritage science at Vilnius University. I currently work in heritage protection and study architectural and technical heritage. I’m also a tour guide for the crypts of Vilnius Cathedral. I began publishing poetry in 2021.

 

 

Deer

 

there

 

a herd of golden deer

observing

the emerald glow of northern lights

 

here

 

earth-toned me

observing

the wintry privation of color

 

their

 

hooves built for snow

wind-resistant fur

 

my

 

feet always get blisters

my hair won’t keep me warm

 

they

 

are nourished by Icelandic moss

 

I

 

am allergic to many products

 

we

are so unlike

but could be

 

 

 

Swamp Archaeology

 

a team of archaeologists searching for

secret passageways through the swamps

uncover several blackened skulls

and bury them even deeper

before finding out

who they belonged to

where do these marshland spirits come from

with girdles of fog on their waists

whose whispers rise from the bog ponds

in a language long forgotten?

 

“the place is haunted, don’t go there”

the graying professor said to the student,

who did go, of course.

 

we don’t know what he saw

however

his eyes have turned the color of swamps

and the moon was submerged in his pupil.

 

 

 

How I Grasped the Concept of Empiricism

 

They threatened me at school:

keep getting bad grades and you’ll be a groundskeeper.

I saw them through the window all covered in leaves,

I got bad grades – but didn’t become one of them.

 

They taught me at home:

don’t go into the forest without braiding your hair

or the wood fairies will get you.

I used to let my hair down in the darkest spruce groves –

but not one of them came.

 

They warned me at work:

if you keep coming late you’ll lose the job.

I overslept five times –

they weren’t lying.

 

 

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

Questionnaire

What motivated you to write your first poem or story and to publish it?

Alina: I was curious to see what would happen if I tried.
Haroldas: I was motivated to write my first creative works by the death of my grandfather. When I was sixteen, I lost the person who had been closest to me in my life and at the same time I discovered Sigitas Parulskis’s collection of essays, “Sraigė su beisbolo lazda” (A Snail with a Baseball Bat). I found that I really liked this genre of short prose, which was only three to four pages long, and so I began to write by copying Parulskis’s style. I cloaked my true self behind irony and cynicism and wrote because I was grieving, and because I was depressed. When I showed my first attempts at writing to my friends, I became strangely addicted. Ten years ago, my first literary works were published. Later, I became interested in poetry and shifted to this genre.
Uršulė: It’s hard to remember when I wrote my first literary work… Before I had even learned how to write, while playing, I’d create stories. I would tell my family the stories I’d created, and I’d put on performances for them. Once I learned how to write, I would write stories and short histories. I even began keeping a separate journal for my creative writing; I bound my own book with string. When I became a teenager, I began writing a diary. I felt the need to have more space for myself, and I wanted to reflect on what was happening inside of me, what was happening around me. In the upper grades of high school my favorite class was Literature and I most enjoyed reading poetry in school. I read philosophy books during my free time. My poems were born quite naturally.

 

Does the tradition of Lithuanian literature influence you?

Alina: Yes, at first it was the main engine behind my work and my inspiration.
Haroldas: Yes, especially authors like Sigitas Parulskis, Gintaras Grajauskas, Algimantas Mackus, Aušra Kaziliūnaitė, Mantas Gimžauskas. They all inspired me to try my hand at poetry.
Uršulė: I would not say it had a conscious influence on me, but I do think that it settles within your thinking, your vocabulary, your choice of narratives. I read a lot of contemporary poetry, but I also read a lot of work written by writers working in other countries. Somehow all of it weaves together into one common thread.

 

Is it important to you to belong to a community of writers?

Alina: Yes, it is important for a young writer to feel the support of the community.
Haroldas: If you had asked me this question ten years ago, my answer would have been, “Yes.” That’s because at that time a community of writers was a unique part of my personal identity. However, now, in this present time, my answer has changed to, “No.” That’s because I’m interested exclusively in individual writers, and if I’m interested enough, I will spend time with them on an individual basis.

Uršulė: Yes, it’s important. I like to feel that I am a part of something. I like to feel the overall literary atmosphere, its pulse. At the same time, it’s important for me to separate myself when I need to.

 

In your opinion, what place does literature occupy in today’s culture, which is dominated by visual media?

Alina: I think literature plays quite an important role and that’s because it becomes visual through social media and advertisements. In this way, it takes on new meanings.
Haroldas: My subjective opinion is that literature is a meditative space away from social media and platforms, and that’s because reading takes concentration and focus.
Uršulė: I think it plays an important role. Literature enables images to appear, and while creating literature you can draw inspiration from images. I do not see any conflict between the genres. Perhaps accessing images is easier and “faster,” but that does not mean that visual medias have more meaning than literature. I believe that literature will always be important. Literature is written—and will continue to be written—into our bodies.

 

Name one of your favorite contemporary foreign authors.

Alina: The young Estonian poet Aliis Aalmann.
Haroldas: Recently I read Hugh Howey’s science fiction post-apocalyptic series, Silo. That’s one of the best science fiction genre books I’ve ever read.
Uršulė: Most of my favorite foreign authors are physically dead, but when I read their work, I feel as though they were still creating. For example, Lorca. I also like contemporary Latvian poetry.

 

Do you expect that literature and activities associated with literary work will be the main source of your income in the future?

Alina: No, I do not believe that literature will become my main source of income; however, literature will always exist for me as a means of self-expression separate from earning a living.
Haroldas: Most definitely not. My creative work appears very sporadically, and I never attempted to become an expert in the field. Also, because in the Lithuanian context living from your creative work more often than not is tragic because writers live in poverty. Also, my topics are on the experience of depression and suicide, and that is a niche area, an alternative genre. As the years pass by, I find myself producing less and less.
Uršulė: I would like to believe that it will be.

 

Translated by Laima Vincė

 

 

 

 

 

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