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
I clung to a tree To a bridge To a path Having fallen On a hill of sand My ear pressed down – What do they say? I clung for a grip To a backrest, Heads, shoulders and elbows. I clung to words Onto words, On to lapels I clung While I’d rather Have pushed away I clung to the end of a train To the terminal station Toward hope While I asked for another, One more round Of vodka For me From a barrel I unhooked my coat And my granny’s motley kerchief Tying my thoughts And memory Into knots When the war made me flee 07/03/2022
By Rūta Ju
Translated by Kerry Shawn Keys
Rūta Jurkuvienė (born in 1973), pen name Rūta Ju, started writing poetry in her forties, seemingly out of the blue, when her “poetry chakras opened” as she jokingly says. Having been a teacher, a mother, an educator, a reader, an art admirer, a constant student, now training to become a psychotherapist, always a thinker and a feeler, it took a while to admit that she is a poet, too. Her poetry is inspired by strong emotions, philosophical questions, inner turmoil and events in the world around. Each poem comes with its particular rhythm that invites a string of words to fill it in. Rūta loves reading her poetry aloud, she shares some of her poetry on Facebook page Rūta Ju and is compiling her first book for publishing. She lives in Lithuanian seaside town Klaipėda where she enjoys the sea and the nature as well as the moderately vibrant city life.
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: