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
Where his blood was shed There a rose bloomed.
Death is just wounded breathing-- no, pardon me, not wounded. Severed. during Russia’s war on Ukraine I keep forgetting to breathe I keep catching myself heaving a sigh trying to take in a deep breath my lungs feel short of air: I may be holding my breath as I follow events, I don’t know I may just be forgetting blood devoid of oxygen is nought it is shed freely there emptying out with the last breath * naval battle games when you shoot at simulated ships are just an exercise for improving reaction time and strategy that’s all just squares on a sheet of paper but now I ask my daughter not to tell me anything about those games because it’s not squares I see that’s all death is just severed breathing cells die as we stop breathing I don’t remember my first breath in this world but giving birth taught me to breathe I don’t know what we learn as we die. March 2, 2022
By Jurgita Jasponytė
Translated by Jura Avizienis
Jurgita Jasponytė was born in 1981 in Zarasai. She began her studies at Vilnius Pedagogical University in 1999 and went on to receive a BA in Lithuanian philology and an MA in literature. She works as a librarian, raising her daughters Ugne and Jūre Jotvile. Her poetry collection Šaltupė (the name of a Zarasai street, meaning “cold river”) won the Lithuanian Writer’s Union First Book Contest. In 2015, she won the Zigmas Gėlė Prize for best poetic debut. Her second poetry collection Vartai Auštriejį (The Sharp Gates of Dawn) was published in 2019 and was awarded Vladas Šlaitas Prize and also Vilnius Mayor Prize for poems about Vilnius.
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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