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Auris Radzevičius-Radzius (1965–2019) – poet, painter, scenographer born in Kaunas. An experimentator and expressionist in both painting and poetry. A well-known representative of the Lithuanian underground art scene. The posthumous collection of Radzevičius’s work titled Data of Emptiness presents a complete picture of his poetic work, including the poet’s 1990 debut book Ornament Instead of a Ship and more than 100 later texts. The poetry is supplemented by texts discussing Radzevičius’s reception and biography.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

By Martynas Pumputis

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

Birute Grasyte review 02Auris Radzevičius-Radzius. Data of Emptiness. Book designer Deimantė Rybakovienė. – V.: Bazilisko ambasada, 2023.

In the Lithuanian cultural scene, Auris Radzevičius-Radzius (1965–2019) is known first as a visual artist and only then as a writer. During his life Radzevičius published just the one poetry book titled Ornamentas vietoj laivo (Ornament Instead of a Ship, 1990) as part of the Lithuanian Writers’ Union’s First Book series. Over time, it became a bibliographic rarity; the same has happened to other great books in the series (good luck finding Kęstutis Navakas’s or Aidas Marčėnas’s first books of poetry). Attempts to publish another book by Radzevičius weren’t successful. And now, Bazilisko ambasada presents us a posthumous collection of his work, including his first book, more than 100 later poems, and supplementary texts about the poet (i.e., reception, interviews, and recollections).

Radzevičius belongs to a generation of poets who lived out their youth during the final years of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. Some of them even managed to publish their first books during this time. Artūras Tereškinas concludes his review on those books by saying that “these young poets are very unlike each other, yet they share a painful historical experience that makes sitting under a white acacia tree or rallying the nation equally futile endeavors.”[1] The poems published in Ornamentas vietoj laivo, written during the years 1983–1987, reflect the sensibilities of their period – “I was powerless even before I was born / against the reality moving and killing / to crumble” (p. 70) – as much as they reflect its absurdity: “From now on disabled children inhabit the city! / From now on art will flourish and mummification shall fade into oblivion! / Such joy! Let us smash our heads on garbage bins!” (p. 54).

Since the poems don’t contain direct references to the events of their period or historical realia, they’ve proven to withstand the test of time – the same cannot be said about realistic or political poetry, which carries out its function and remains to exist only as a sign of its era. There is a tension communicated through Data of Emptiness that is applicable to any political environment. In his critical essay “The Unrevokable Path of the Artist,” Ramūnas Čičelis accurately predicts that Radzevičius’s books “have already attracted, and will likely attract an even larger cult following among the younger generation of readers and poets” (p. 282). Dark themes and questions of identity and the world are certainly present in contemporary Lithuanian poetry, and it doesn’t look like they will become less popular anytime soon. It can even be said that the generation Tereškinas describes is still a source of influence – we can see how relevant Radzevičius is by the fact that he was published by the younger poets, and not his contemporaries.
For those not familiar with Radzevičius’s poetry, a starting point may be the poem “Praktika” (“Practice”) by Aidas Marčėnas from his 1988 debut collection Šulinys (Well):

you cannot step into
the same river twice
once Heraclitus said now
you could try I think and look at the strange
froth gathering in the foul smelling stream
(p. 65)

And the lyrics from the 1983 song “Mes neturime verkti” (“We Shouldn’t Cry”) by the legendary Lithuanian punk rock group Sa-Sa: “I will surely love you at the railway station / on the bench covered in dirt and spit / […] / but perhaps not only sewage will pour from the pipes / perhaps something better will flow from them too.” In his poetry, Radzevičius, too, navigates a world that is dark and tense yet also offers glimpses of sensitivity and change.

Speaking in established terms, such imagery as opposed to beauty is referred to as the aesthetics of ugliness. But perhaps another fitting term for this phenomenon in art was coined by Vilkduja in their record “Ave, Caesar” – estetikos kastracija (“the castration of aesthetics”): when ugliness is not born as an antithesis to beauty, but is born of beauty. For Radzevičius, ugliness in poetry can be found in two ways. First, in the traditionally grotesque: “riding a train across the land covered in carcasses” (p. 34), “your blood – rotten mud” (p. 44), “The glittering head of a snake slithering out of his mouth” (p. 73), “my beloved is dead on the sofa / your face is blue and decaying” (p. 85). The imagery of drowners and corpses is frequent. Speaking of aesthetic castration, it is precisely reflected in the title of a review written by Castor&Pollux[2] – “The Aesthetics of Rotten Lilies,” referencing the poet’s aptitude for creating dark and uncomfortable images through the use of naturally pleasant symbols: “the rotting roses of solitude” (p. 110), “here, lilies blooming on rot!” (p. 42), “as I squeeze in my hand the yellow / head of a canary bird” (p. 107).

Speaking of Radzevičius, Čičelis emphasizes the creation of an independent reality, a different world (p. 280–281), which pertains to recurring imagery in the first book as well as the later poems (like the oft mentioned ornament). Many of the tropes are very ingrained in the poetic tradition, like castles, flowers, especially lilies. But there are more peculiar ones, which the author makes his own, like reptiles on a human’s face or snails. The reader is drawn into a harsh, desolate, uncomfortable world: the trains here are pushed by despair and swallowed by darkness (p. 35), “Dogs howl in the city. / In the empty alleyways, under the crumbling arcs” (p. 113). A cursed world: where young women give birth to dog-headed people (p. 54), “radiation is everywhere” (p. 55), and where the birds are “bothered no more by the sinking churches / rotting bridges / and children dying on the shores / they look on as if they knew it all beforehand” (p. 25). A world where weakness and apathy prevail, and where life becomes a curse: “We’re born at a bad time and we’re late to die” (p. 56) and yet “living is not mandatory, dying isn’t too” (p. 43); as the paradox occurs, “a creaking gate opens / in my tangled chest / for strange nonsense” (p. 29). We also see the human and the animal morphing into one: “but a whole compendium of beasts with faces of mine starts creeping out from the corners” (p. 154), “with little fish in my stomach / worms in my head / rings in my eyes / and a snake for a tongue” (p. 209). However, the theme of love remains very much human. Here it is recurrently associated with death, as the lyrical subject is depicted confronting his dead lover, or as the conditions for love to exist become unattainable: “Our bodies are close but our hands are cold / And we do not know anymore the meaning of / Loving another” (p. 104). The debut book is not all about depicting a doomed world – there is the occasional instance of respite, like the city that tames the chaos (p. 51) or the untouched memories of childhood (p. 83).

The second part of Data of Emptiness, edited by its publishers, contains a more eclectic collection of verse. These later poems, written between the years 1987 and 2019, are less gloomy and more experimental, where the grotesque turns into the surreal and the dreamlike. Some of the situations are even comical: “in the beginning I looked like a small yellow duck” (p. 126), “that morning my buddha came to resemble a burnt teletubby” (p. 160), “over there... / a gnome is flashing his d...” (p. 153). These aren’t unsettling to the subject, who appears to become more self-aware: “maybe my / inner / voice / will be heard” (p. 137), “I cry when I read, and I shout and hum when I dance / because its less scary that way” (p. 146), “I squeeze my eyes shut / and look inward” (p. 170). The subject in these later poems is more in touch with their emotions and reflective of their complicated personality, driven by the pursuit of meaning yet content to exist in an empty and meaningless world. Where the thought process is expressed, it’s done through a stream of coherent but irregularly ordered sentences: “cover the under I don’t see that all a dream full moon now so / because I am dreaming you say that my dream’s in a dream squared / but never a mathematician more a fireman” (p. 148). The surreal scenes are used to touch upon existential matters: “fluorescentic tentacles flicker / and snatch the hidden files and objects of existence” (p. 135), “back home I find an unruly / potted rose / she refuses to bloom once again / […] / hysterically accusing me / of hiding life’s meaning from her” (p. 130). Here, too, love is associated with death (suicide is a recurring motive) – the poems express the longing of a lost lover, the feelings of distance and connection. Skeptical of weepy and sentimental speech (p. 174), the subject is still able to access their sensitive side: “the days are empty when you’re not around” (p. 175), “you picked my apart word by word” (p. 187).

I applaud Bazilisko ambasada for giving Auris Radzevičius-Radzius a proper and due comeback into the Lithuanian poetry scene. Data of Emptiness boasts an impressive collection of poetry that is intense, captivating, brimming with disfigured and whimsical imagery, and reflective of the individual in their environment and of the environment in the individual. This road runs along the shore and is littered with corpses, decay, and rotting lilies, but what if it’s the only possible one?

1. Tereškinas A. “Jaunųjų poezija: tarp istorijos ir ornamento.” In: Draugas, Supplement Mokslas, Menas, Literatūra, December 28, 1991, p. 3. 

2. The name of an anonymous Lithuanian literary critic collective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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