On the morning of February 24th, the world was stunned by news that no human being could ever desire: a war was being waged in the heart of Europe. The Vilnius Book Fair, a beloved annual festival of literature began that very day. Only this year, the festival was imbued with sadness and the premonition of world war: not a single book presentation, discussion, concert or poetry reading was performed without a reference to the war. Thirty-two years ago, as Lithuania had been fighting for independence, poetry could be heard at every demonstration, rally and meeting: once again poetry has become an important form of resistance and a means for expressing civic responsibility. This time, the battle is being waged by Ukraine, and Lithuanian poets dedicate their verses to her and her people.
Lithuanian poets and writers have responded to the war in Ukraine in various ways: the voices of those who have lost their faith in the power and meaning of their art, those who feel paralysed, poisoned by anger and hatred, can be heard on social media. Others continue to write silently; still others contribute to relief work for Ukrainian refugees. Poet and translator, editor of the Vilnius Review, Marius Burokas, has become one of the most reliable war chroniclers on Facebook.
Ukraine‘s heroism has inspired the Lithuanian Culture Institute to create a poetry archive to document the authentic experiences of and contemplations on the war and the empathy for Ukraine. Some of the poems have been translated into Ukrainian and English and disseminated to wider audiences. An unexpectedly large number of authors, some well-known, others completely unknown, from Lithuania and beyond her borders, responded to the poetry initiative. We invite you to become acquainted with some of their testimonies.
Introduction by Rūta Mėlynė
Translated by Jura Avizienis
In partnership with Lithuanian Culture Institute
Again and again at prayer, I start each day: Lord, please, shelter me from gusts at doorways, I don’t want to see bloodshed nor savagery Stray dogs and dead pigeons in the city I keep on praying on and on, so I don’t see starving, heartbroken orphans, helpless, all around. Please, open a clear sky above, like an umbrella, if you can, Don’t let me fall, pass out on the rails of a train. I don’t want to see war beyond anything else Nor torn bodies – nothing and nobody’ll ever heal, I know, My eyes don’t want to see this. And the Lord answered my prayers – Brooches of golden rays silently blinding, aglow. February 24, 2022
By Vainius Bakas
Translated by Kerry Shawn Keys
Vainius Bakas was born 9 May, 1989 in Ukmergė. His first book was published in 2003, five years before he graduated secondary school (2008). In 2012, he completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Lithuanian Philology at Vilnius University, and in 2014 he received a Master’s Degree in Anthropology and Culture. He has published six collections of poetry: Lietaus spalvos (The colours of rain) in 2003, Pretekstai (Pretexts)in 2010, Kas vėjo – vėjui (Render to the wind what belongs to the wind) in 2014, Kaštonų tonai (Tones of chestnut) in 2016, Tylos fonetika (The phonetics of silence) in 2021 and a book of poetry for children, Ką manė kamanė (In the Opinion of the Bumblebee) in 2019. His poetry has been published in various periodicals and anthologies. He was editor at the literary journal Literatūra ir menas, and currently he is editor and copyeditor at several publishing houses. He has been a member of the Lithuanian Writers’ Union since 2012.
Bakas translates children’s poetry and history from English to Lithuanian. He is an active contributor to cultural life in Lithuania, participating at poetry readings, cultural programs for high school students and young writers and at roundtable discussions on the importance, values and goals of contemporary adult and children’s poetry. Bakas has been awarded many important literary prizes and awards.
Kerry Shawn Keys (born June 25, 1946 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA) is an American poet, writer, playwright and translator. From 1998 to the present, Keys has lived for the most part in Vilnius, publishing, editing, translating from Lithuanian and Portuguese, and writing poetry, plays, children’s books, and wonderscripts. The fountain of Kerry Shawn Keys’ poetry is in the Appalachian Mountains, urban America, India, Brazil and Lithuania, but the roots go worldwide. He has performed and recorded with the free jazz percussionist and sound-constellation artist, Vladimir Tarasov (CD-Prior Records), and quarterbacked the jazz Nada Quartet. Recent books are Black Ice, 2020; Night Flight (poems), 2012; Pienas (prose tales and plays), 2013; Sich einen Fluss verschaffen (bilingual English/German poems), 2017; New Poetry from China, 1917-2017, co-translated with Ming Di, 2018; Shoelaces for Chagall (bilingual English/German selection of love poems, 2021); Kerry Shawn Keys, Life and Selected Works, 2021. Keys received the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America in 1992, and in 2005 a National Endowment For The Arts Literature Fellowship.
Photo by Lisa Kalloo
Check out the Poetry Travels book list on bookshop.org.
Read previous poems from Poetry Travels: