Indrė Valantinaitė is a Lithuanian poet of the younger generation. She is not only an excellent poet, but also a great singer. It’s high time to ask her a few questions.
You are a poet, you are a singer and, in a short statement about poetry, you tell that you are “drawing” your poems. Are you also a visual artist? Or what does this “drawing” mean?
I am a former singer, at the moment I only sing on special occasions, like friends’ weddings or the presentation of my books. I wish I could paint... But the words I choose are the only brushes I use to create these stories. I see my poems as movies, pictures or dreams and “translate” them into words. The best thing for me is to know that the reader “saw” these poems on his “imagination screen.”
How important is it for a Lithuanian poet to be translated into English or German?
...or French, or Polish, or Italian... Especially in Lithuania, there is a narrow circle of people who are interested in poetry, so translations into any language gives the poem a new chance to be found, read and loved. I always say that the poem has as many lives as the languages it is translated into. This is why I am so grateful to the Versopolis project! This platform makes a dream come true. To travel because of reading poetry and getting to know other writers is the greatest gift to me. I think that everybody in this project feels the same way.
When did you start to write poetry? Do you recall your first poem? If yes, what was it about?
Even when I didn’t know how to write, I wrote down strange squiggles in the forms of verse. Later, I rewrote some H.C. Anderson’s fairytales into poems. I remember that the first of them was “The Little Mermaid.” Later I illustrated it and sewed up these sheets of paper as a book. I was seven, when I officially participated in a children’s poetry competition. The poem was about the night, the moon, the stars and their short life, which ends each time when the morning comes. It was symbolistic and banal.
You were a child when Lithuania became independent, growing up in a very special atmosphere of “freedom.” Is your writing also influenced by the time when Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Union?
I was six when Lithuania became independent, so I don’t remember much. My mother and my country became independent at the same time: My parents divorced while the whole political upheaval was taking place. I remember a hard time after that. Just that emotional and physical feeling of lack, which surrounded me for a while. I think we, Lithuanians, are all influenced by that atmosphere and these historical events. I guess this will be with us forever.
I found some of your poems deal with age, like “Biological Clock” and “I’ll Probably Be a Skinny Old Woman” or another one titled “Four-Year-Old-Queen.” Is age a topic that concerns you?
Age is one of the constantly changing elements in our personal formula, which strongly affects the way we see and feel things. Sometimes I am playing in my poems by letting my figures speak from different towers of different “ages.” Some of my poems I wrote as a teenager. For example, when I was writing “In 2055, I’ll probably be a skinny old woman,” that year seemed so far away... I was nineteen then, and now – that time is quickly getting closer and closer.
Is there something like a poetic tradition in Lithuania? I mean, I know quite a lot of Lithuanian poets, but I don’t know any Latvian poet, for example, having never met one at the many festivals I’ve been to.
Poetry is very important in our culture, especially it was during the resistance time, until Lithuania became independent. And now we have a lot of “strong” poets and poetry is starting to bloom again. I think that a new wave of interest in poetry is rising in our country. Poetry has so many important things to do – it may strengthen us. I see poetry as a compass of light or a yoga for a soul.
How is a poem created? Is there a special pattern that applies for all poems you write?
It takes both, my heart and brain to give birth to a poem. First you feel it, then you are “pregnant” with it for a while and then you try to put it down in a way, which would help others feel as close as you did when first seeing it. It may happen anywhere. I often write down some lines – that come to my mind – on my palm, right in the street, or on a paper tissue in the café. Sometimes I see poems in a dream and usually don’t remember them clearly when I wake up. So, some of the poems are forever lost in my dreams. There are two ways poems come to me – personal experience or through people, movies, music and any kind of art that touches me.
What are your favorite places to write?
Anywhere where I feel that this is the right moment for a poem to come. Sometimes even in the car, while waiting for the green traffic light. It is like falling in love, very similar feeling, which you can’t stop.
Lithuania is a beautiful country, no doubt about it, but it is somehow, let’s call it, “off the road.” Is there some kind of desire deep inside you to maybe move one day to a more “central” place in Europe like Berlin, London or Paris?
Once I would say no, but now, I must confess, sometimes ideas like that come to my mind. So, it is possible. You never know. I understood, that I could live anywhere, where I would love, be loved, create and have cultural life to feed my eyes and soul.
As a poet – are you isolated or are you having contact to others? Maybe discussing each other’s work?
I live on the countryside, near a lake, so I am a bit isolated, even geographically, but I come to Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania) at least three or four times a week, to experience an art exhibition, poetry readings, concerts, theater plays or to meet with the people. I have only a few friends who are writers, but we do not talk a lot about poetry. Only when new publications appear, or after the performances. I think that poetry is a very personal and intimate form of art. It begins as a secret – when you start writing a poem, something is still hidden even from you. I am not a productive writer, so each time a poem happens to me – it is a small private celebration. A bit sacred, blessed moment.
I’LL PROBABLY BE A SKINNY OLD WOMAN
Ripping open her kisses and her fears
She awakes at night
To be astonished by everything that has changed her.
In 2055, I’ll probably be a skinny old woman
and I won’t take up much space on buses and in queues.
In half a century, only the bathroom mirror and doctors
will look at my body.
I’ll only be touched
by sweaty night gowns,
torn at the underarm.
Then, before I fall asleep,
I will remember the taste of my lover’s tongue and saliva
and all the men who wanted me long ago.
And – how the bead creaks
when two lie upon it.
(translated by Ada Valaitis)