Druskininkai Week of the Festival, Lithuania

On (Not) Good Girls in Life and Poetry

Lina Buividavičiūtė interviews Vitalija Pilipauskaitė-Butkienė

/ by Lina Buividavičiūtė

Vitalija, I have already raised this question in our private conversation, but I really want to talk about this publicly. In your poems, as well as mine, there’s quite a bit of anger, the kind of anger that was forbidden for ‘good girls’ and is still often ‘bypassed’ in poetry, especially women’s poetry. So, I’m asking – how do you and your texts approach this anger? Would you say that some of your poems ‘legalize’ anger? And is it necessary, beautiful and appropriate to be angry and make so much sound in literature, in general?


The topic of anger is very important to me, and not just in literature – primarily, it’s important to me in life. A lot of women have learned, generation after generation, to ignore their anger, not to recognize it – and anger is, after all, an expression of power. It is, in a way, an actual physical energy. Anger shows that I don’t like or approve of something that’s happening to me or around me. Anger gives me a chance to announce this, and then – voila! – to change what I don’t approve of. You must know how to be angry, of course – so that you don’t hurt yourself or others. You must find the right ways of anger. But, as you’re saying, anger doesn’t suit ‘good girls’ in general. No, no – I’m a good girl. I’m so good I don’t even know how to be angry. I’m nearly a saint. Only I munch chocolate to excess and then throw up, or I think continuously of drowning myself. Veronika was a good girl too. She didn’t want to be disagreeable. Got pregnant – her own fault. Get out of the community. And even if the community doesn’t drive me away, I still know that I’m already shameful, stained, guilty, unworthy... And I recede. I have discerned anger in our literature, but it was merely a sprinkling, so little that it made me angry. Maybe this is why I had only written for myself for so many years. I had to get that feeling inside that I was ready to go public – just the way I am; in life and in literature alike. That is – in every way. Alive. Along with my guilt and my ecstasy. To witness that I feel and that I have a voice to talk about the way I feel. That I have a voice to witness the way a person and people feel – not necessarily myself: A child, an elderly woman, a man... A cancer patient. An alcoholic. A spinster. A woman who has lost her child. A boy who’s being hurt by his father.


On the other hand, anger is not what I aim for. If I limited myself to anger, life would narrow down. Creativity, too. And there are so many colours, shades, sounds and chords in the world – and I find all of them beautiful and interesting. All of them are welcome, worth exploring, worth experiencing. I don’t want to bypass or cut anything, to pretend that it doesn’t exist. I love the world in all of its diversity.


Should there be sound in literature? Not just should, there must be. Literature is meant to give voice to relevant issues. To speak of the most important things. But, as I said before, there’s danger in ‘fixation’. In labels. After all, Buividavičiūtė or Pilipauskaitė are not merely anger or flesh. Lina, we are rainbows and stones, anger and joy, intermittent and very beautiful because of it.


Also, anger is not solely a women’s problem. This applies to both genders. To every gender. This is universal. Ask the ‘good boys’ – they’ll have something to say, too. Not just in literature.


At the DPF festival last year, we had a lot of discussions about masculinity and femininity and I can feel that sound, that resonance in today’s cultural sphere. I want to pose this slightly provocative question, especially to you – as you engage in a gentle preparation of a woman’s soul – does ‘gender poetry’ – male and female creativity – exist? For instance, I have to admit that, with regard to most of your poems, I can’t imagine that a man could have authored them. Do you think these differences of the nature of genders exist in poetry?


We return to labelling with this question. You know, as a literaturologist, I could do a lot of writing and talking about men’s and women’s literature. Sorting, applying the labels. I have the skills and tools to do this. I analysed women’s literature in my master’s thesis and I started my doctor’s dissertation on that. But I stopped. Why? Because I realised what’s much more important to me: Is there an authentic, distinctive, live speaking and creative work? As I come across one, I become immersed in it and explore, with great pleasure, its world – usually going past the gender category to a human – an extraordinary creature with its own genetics, unique mind, unique experience – level. And this is much more interesting to me. Same in poetry – it’s there or it’s not. And if it’s there, it’s usually so strong that it pulls me into its world, I meet someone there, I change, experience and I come back different, transformed. In this confrontation, I don’t think of gender differences – it’s the creative work that I think of and experience. And if poetry is not there – then I don’t waste my time on it and go do something more interesting. So differences in poetry exist, by all means, to me – but they involve much more than just gender. I care about a woman, femininity in life, as well as in literature. But I care about a man, too. A child. A tree. A dolphin. A stone. Just as deeply and sincerely.


I’m thinking about your poem ‘Mažutytei (To the Little One)’ – I consider it to be one of the darkest and most influential texts, not just by you... But I keep wondering – boundaries – where does psychotherapy end and literature begins? Do you think that a poem that prescribes traumas and is, therefore, psychotherapeutic in one way or another, can be an example of good literature? And then again, what is ‘good literature’, in general?


Oh, great question! I was looking for an answer for a long time. For the whole thirty years, probably. If I hadn’t found it, I would probably never have let my book go public. I realise now that I needed long years at school with greatest teachers of literature, I needed evenings and nights with books for company – in libraries, bed, even the bathroom, I needed the university degrees – undergraduate, graduate and even that year and a half of postgraduate research – in order to discover my relationship with literature, my relationship with ‘good literature’, with the powers and the powerful ones who have the right to decide what defines this ‘goodness’ and how it’s measured, with the judges and critics, with readers and with the question – why all the writing, creating, sharing… I observed the intersection of therapy and writing from every angle. I explored the biographies and works of the most celebrated authors. I investigated bibliotherapy. Cinema therapy. I conducted various forums about books and films. I took part in phenomenological reviews of books. I invited people to evening gatherings where we’d read one poem and learn how to experience it. I even organised experiential poetry workshops for children – to realise how the creative work is born.


I’ll give a brief answer to your question – writing is a form of therapy for me. But not every therapeutic writing is a work of literature. What makes it a work of literature? And what makes it a work of good literature, not just a work? These are questions for our future conversations.


As for ‘The Little One’ – I left this poem as it was, on purpose. I knew I could hide it. Put icing on it. Put powder on it. Turn it into literature. But then it wouldn’t be ‘The Little One’ – we would return to the tradition of a desecrated rue gardens. And it’s so, so sickening. So I left this text just as it was in the experience of a child – pure, clear and almost unfathomably painful... Let the critics critique if this is literature or not. And I have my own inner knowing. This is enough for me. Actually, at one point, just before the publication, I was uncertain – maybe I should exclude it, after all? I’m very grateful to Aidas Marčėnas, who noticed this slight stir of mine – and said: If you’re being this brave, then be brave right to the end. I am. I will.

Lina Buividavičiūtė

is a dreamer, a woman of mist, writing and recording (real – one should hope) things. In 2017, she published her first “angry and furious” poetry book, Helsinkio sindromas (Helsinki Syndrome). The same year, she received her PhD in Lithuanian literature. In 2010 she started and hopes never to finish a PhD in motherhood – He is eight years old now. She reads, creates, she conducts her presentations of other people’s books, she critiques her colleagues, not in an angry way, and she scouts around culture.