Poetry Travels: Lithuanian Poets for Ukraine – FIRST SPRING OF THE WAR by Vytautas Kaziela, translated by Jura Avizienis

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

spring is coming
the first spring of the war
blood gurgling in rivers
and the sun smiles 
in black

the birds hurried by
they did not form a circle
so that with their chests
they could cover the sky 

the hands
of the defenders of freedom
swing the bell
up high

for the defenders
the war advances
with leaden steps
across the heart
blood sets
bullets all around

they do not attack
they courageously
even after they fall
they live on

for Russian soldiers
the war rages
the muses are silent
just a frightening
in the heart

your leaders
betray you
your homeland
even your mothers

the country of Russia

so massive 
but for you
not even a cross
along the grey roadside

those who defend their land
will only wound you
ultimately your own
will finish you off

March 2, 2022

By Vytautas Kaziela

Translated by Jura Avizienis

Vytautas Kaziela was born in 1955 in Valančiai, in the Molėtai region of Lithuania. He was a journalist for various Lithuanian daily newspapers, but since 2007, he is the director of the Kamonada publishing house. He has published twelve poetry collections. His book Alyvmedžiai (Olive Trees) was selected the best poetry book of 2019. Kaziela’s poetry is a poetry of solitude, of meditation, one that requires silence. Kaziela maintains that minimalism, in form and image, must awe in its grace, expressing everything that is important with one effective word. He has been a member of the Lithuanian Writers’ Union since 1994.

Jura Avizienis has been translating Lithuanian literature since the early 1990s. Her first translations appeared in Violeta Kelertas’s anthology of Soviet-Lithuanian literature: Come Into My Time: Lithuania in Prose Fiction, 1970-90. The project inspired her to get her Master’s Degree in Lithuanian literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has translated over thirty-five short stories, essays, novels, plays and a graphic novel. The Lithuanian Culture Institute poetry initiative is her first foray into translating poetry.

Photo by Lisa Kalloo

Check out the Poetry Travels book list on bookshop.org.

Read previous poems from Poetry Travels:

A LETTER TO A CHILD by Lina Buidavičiutė, translated by Ada Valaitis

UNTITLED by Aneta Kamińska, translated by Anna Blasiak

TWO LYRICS OF LOVE AND MEMORY by Lina Kostenko, translated by Stephen Komarnyckyj

CROW STUDY by Yuri Andrukhovych, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

UNTITLED POEM by Serhiy Zhadan, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

UNTITLED POEM by Ludmila Khersonsky, translated by Maya Chhabra

UNTITLED POEM by Iryna Vikyrchak

From THE ANDROMEDA NEBULA by Anna Gréki, translated by Souheila Haïmiche and Cristina Viti

TEAPOT by Nurduran Duman, translated by Andrew Wessels

IT’S COMING AGAIN by Michael Strunge, translated by Paul Russell Garrett

REPORT FROM ANOTHER CITY by Marcin Niewirowicz, translated by the Author

INTERIOR by Ana Blandiana, translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea

THIS IS LOVE by Joanna Fligiel, translated by Anna Blasiak

REVELATION IN H&M by Menno Wigman, translated by David Colmer

*** (I WANT TO FOLD THIS DAY) by Inga Pizāne, translated by Jayde Will

THE SIEGE by Marcin Świetlicki, translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

FISH by Jana Putrle Srdić, translated by Barbara Jurša

THE WELL by Maarja Pärtna, translated by Jayde Will

THE SHADOW by Pentti Saarikoski, translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah

A FAREWELL TO MY DEAD CLASS by Irit Amiel, translated by Anna Blasiak and Marta Dziurosz

THE GIRLS IN BERGEN-BELSEN by Nora Gomringer, translated by Annie Rutherford

DECEMBER, by Jaume Subirana, translated by Christopher Whyte

ROSE RED, by Ulrike Almut Sandig, translated by Karen Leeder

*** (I D[R]IPPED MY PEN…) by Mario Martín Gijón, translated by Terence Dooley

WHAT COMES by Magda Cârneci, translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Mădălina Bănucu

TRANSLATION by Justyna Bargielska, translated by Maria Jastrzębska

*** (MY EYES, DENSE NIGHT…) by Gëzim Hajdari, translated by Ian Seed

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