Aušra Kaziliūnaitė

Lithuania

Poet and philosopher Aušra Kaziliūnaitė (b. 1987) is one of the most distinguished representative of the younger generation of Lithuanian poets and is author of five poetry books (The First Lithuanian Book, 2007; 20% Concentration Camp, 2009; The Moon Is a Pill, 2014; I Am Crumbled Walls, 2016, „Jūros nėra“, 2020). Kaziliūnaitė’s poems were translated into 16 languages. In 2018, her poetry collection The Moon Is a Pill (translated by Rimas Užgiris and published by Parthian Books) was included by literary scholar Jayde Will into the top five of the best English-translated books written by authors from the Baltic States.

 

A. Kaziliūnaitė is a member of the Lithuanian Writers Union. Her works have received prestigious awards (The Elena Mezginaitė and Jurga Ivanauskaitė prizes as well as the Young Artist Award of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania), while the collection The Moon Is a Pill, was ranked in the top five list of the Best Poetry Books of 2015.

 

A. Kaziliūnaitė is a frequent participant of international literary festivals and book fairs. In 2018, she, together with Steven J. Fowler, participated in the performance organized by Poetry Society, which took place at the European Poetry Festival in London; in the same year, she read her poems at the opening of the London Book Fair and at Poets’ House in New York. Also in 2018, A. Kaziliūnaitė was invited to participate in a three-month International Writing Program residency for writers. She received a Honorary Fellow in Writing title from Iowa University, and the poet became an alumni of the U. S. State Department. Kaziliūnaitė is currently a PhD student at the Vilnius University Faculty of Philosophy; in her thesis, she analyzes the interaction of Michel Foucault’s panopticism and dystopian discourses.


Concepts borrowed from cinematography and surrealism are frequently used to describe the poems of A. Kaziliūnaitė. Her writings are visually dense and lush. She makes ample use of complex and multifaceted metaphors or chains of metaphors. Her poems often are reminiscent of small narratives: the reader is first given a panoramic view, then presented with an intrigue, while the conclusion is based on an unexpected transformation. That which first seemed as a stable given is a mere smokescreen, which conceals a complex inner process, an inner mechanism.

 

A doubt in the surface view and that which is self-evident is an essential feature of philosophical thinking. In spite of the precisely portrayed objects and their clear contours, as well as the suggestive landscapes, the reader is presented with an ever-increasing suspicion that every object hides a yet another image – that objects and people are complex, composite, and heterogenic. The objective of Kaziliūnaitė’s works is to reveal this multifacetedness and show that which hides beneath the skin, that which is under the surface of daily life. The immersion in the depths of one’s own inner world, or that of other objects, landscapes, or the whole world itself is closely linked to the experience of horror and the grotesque. This is the realm of various strange creatures – the others. Images pertaining to the aesthetics of hyperrealistic ugliness are used to describe these entities.

 

Dangers and the experiences of abjectivity masked by the surfaces of everyday life are closely associated with feminist ideas, which concern the poet greatly, as well as the postulates of poststructuralism and the critique of anthropocentrism. The subject is not continuous and monologic; it bears no consistent structure – contours and borders and the so-called identities are persistently transforming. The division between the inner and the outer is also obscure – the subjects are often transported into alien bodies or objects, while the latter acquire the qualities of subjectivity and intentionality. For that reason, even though the complete discovery of oneself and the world is impossible, one must constantly doubt and deconstruct anything that appears to be self-evident: “would you love me / if suddenly my gender / changed or my scent / the color of my skin

the time of year // would you still love / if I were a flower and a stone / or a flower growing / among stones” (The Moon Is a Pill, (Parthian Books, p. 14)).

 

The poetics of paradox, grounded on unexpected turns of meaning, are utilized to express the all-encompassing change – the reading of Kaziliūnaitė’s poems is akin to a circling motion, which is realized through the reiterations and the circular composition so favored by the poet. This turns the poem into a polilogic work containing a multitude of perspectives – there is no final and clear answer. Instead, the reader is offered to continuously doubt and raise questions. For example, in the poem “stuffed” (I Am Crumbled Walls, p. 67), the subject is chased by a stuffed bird, which eventually turns into an actual bird, yet this bird is a mere reflection in the mirror. “alien planet” (I Am Crumbled Wallsp. 82) tells of a trope often found in science fiction – a scientist having landed on the surface of an unknown planet and gathering samples. The lense of an unseen camera is capturing the strange cosmic landscape, but the perspective keeps changing, and the reader then sees a regular room with a trite view out of the window. We are left to question which of these images is real and which fictional. Perhaps life in distant space is a banal routine? Or perhaps our daily routines are so strange and saturated with experiences of solitude that they are reminiscent of space exploration? The process of the poem, and Kaziliūnaitė’s works as a whole, which jointly state and negate, build and destroy, provide the possibility of critical thinking. Such a poem requires the reader to be active, to be ready to move and change, to doubt and discover.

 

The speaker of the poems is also nondescript and multifaceted. Despite the focus on social topics, Kaziliūnaitė’s “I” has no male, female, leftist, lyrical, or other kind of fixed identity. The poet likes to identify herself with various objects and subjects. Such a “voice”, or, perhaps, considering the visuality of her works, such an “eye” brings to mind the image of a scientist at work. Another feature of Kaziliūnaitė’s poetry is an assertive and confident register which does not doubt or waver. The poems are dominated by statements and lack the words as iflikenor, which are so favored in contemporary Lithuanian poetry. Meaning is created using metaphors, not comparisons. 

 

Visuality and the interconnection between text and visuals have always been important for the poet, starting with her first collection of poems. Frequent are experiments with the graphic form of the poem; the poet erases the boundary between word and digit, for example, by writing a poem using only digits, as if a secret code. In her newest collection I Am Crumbled Walls, these interconnections obtain a new form. The book is a dialogue between the poems of A. Kaziliūnaitė and the photographs of Laima Stasiulionytė (the book was designed by Anton Zolotenkov). The nature of the dialogue is accurately described by the image of crumbling walls used in the book’s title – the boundary between text and image is retained, yet its margins crumble and fade.

 

Critics almost unanimously describe A. Kaziliūnaitė’s poems as avant-garde. However, the possibility to trace the origins of this avant-garde – it stems from contemporary philosophical theories, the poetry of American beatniks and French modernists, also undeniably influenced by Jungian archetypes, mythological studies, and the poetry of Ezra Pound – does not allow us to state that the aim for novelty is among the aims of Kaziliūnaitė’s poetry. The opposite is perhaps true. The post-avant-garde or the postmodern are terms more fit to describe these works, which presuppose a critical yet deep and close relationship with modernism and cultural memory in general.