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
1 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 2 for the defenders the war advances with leaden steps across the heart blood sets bullets all around they do not attack they courageously defend even after they fall they live on 3 for Russian soldiers the war rages the muses are silent just a frightening emptiness 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
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