Druskininkai Week of the Festival, Lithuania

Sound, Fury and Uncreativity, Or...

/ by Gytis Norvilas

 

                                                                        I create

You create

He, she creates

 

 

Before trying to understand something or other, I often take a look at a dictionary of synonyms – how many variations, gradations and modulations the word on the agenda holds. This tells a good deal about its essence. Don’t you agree? Here’s some statistics. In the Lithuanian language, ‘sound’ has 11 synonyms, ‘fury’ has 33 (!), while the sacral word ‘create’ has around 10. I wonder what William Faulkner himself would have to say about that? FURY – 33! Things are not that simple, then, and there are loads of undertones and nuances, subtleties. The question is, what is this fury, eventually? Why are poetry, literature furious, if they are at all?

 

Poetry is omnifarious, it has a variety of blood types, it’s the freest, most democratic genre in its nature. There are no restricted topics in the free world, as it seems. Every so often, of course, the censorship of political correctness goes (off), it’s rather a recent phenomenon... It’s no secret that, in some latitudes, there are black zones and red lines that are not to be overstepped. The fact that a writer can find himself in great danger, even in 21st century (take Salman Rushdie’s case) merely reveals literature as an influential force, a pain in the neck. Paradoxically, poetry is livelier (more needed and more popular, too) in societies under totalitarianism, authoritarianism or repression, where black, shadowy zones are in action. In other words, where poetry, and art in general, have things to do: To move, to change, to be furious. It’s surely the language itself that must be furious, it’s the primary source of life force. Language itself is the unrest, language springs from friction: vowels, consonants, sounds, letters, signs. Language springs from the relationships and erotica of these elements, while poetry is nothing more than the erotica of language.

 

As a consequence of moderate fullness, stability of societies, poetry in the Western world seems to be going, consecutively, through a crisis (am I wrong?), it’s boring, too predictable, interchangeable, affected by a certain globalization. Now is not the time for poetry.

 

While the position of poetry (and that of orderly-like critics) grows weaker, the scene is taken by some all-knowing hipster pseudo-poetry that apparently fights social inequality and defends the rights of kittens or seaweed... This kind of activism, as well as the trendy social poetry, often don’t have anything to do with poetry and are rather affiliated with slogans, advertisements for the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and meaningful messages on coffee cups: we might be separate, / but inseparable, or Eros makes my bed, / while Thanatos barks to death.

Let’s say the last one is not too shabby – I wrote it myself, I could sell it – this kind of poetry would go pretty well on a ketchup bottle. Although there’s a fixed convention that poetry can be everything, and this ‘everything’ contains basic unfriendliness towards language, absence of self-criticism, while the lack of talent is often desperately attempted to present as ‘unconventionality’ or (horrors!) as vanguard, one must admit that hermetic poetry that sees beauty only in itself, does not lead anywhere. Poetry must be active. As far as I’m concerned, poetry either exists or it doesn’t. And don’t try to tell me that this is ‘a matter of taste’, ‘to each his own’, ‘it’s subtle’ etc. Demagoguery. Somehow, everyone can tell a good doctor or inseminator from a bad one. I’ll probably be blamed for being elitist or something, but nonetheless, if a German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger counted that every language (despite the number of its users) has the same amount of serious poetry readers – 1354, then maybe there’s a way to count the graphomaniacs, the literary functionaries? Let it be a rhetoric question. I wouldn’t be too sure if it’s possible, though – this crowd is exceptionally volatile and ephemeral.

 

I don’t want to play the part of a goddamned prig, I really don’t know what poetry, creativity is, exactly... I would always try not to create, to wait it out. To hunt the poetry (assuming there’s some in my poems) down without any beaters, stalking, waiting... I rely on instinct, intuition. It’s probably one and the same. You wait. It appears or it doesn’t. It usually doesn’t. I’m content with this. We over-create, we write too much. When training an actor, he must firstly be taught not to act, an actor must be killed in a person. Lithuanian film director Šarūnas Bartas spoke about this once, too. Everyone should kill the poet, the writer inside themselves, and only then...

 

Last winter, as the cold was cutting and pressing the fences, me and my friend had gone to our country houses (they’re next to each other) to, as we say, light the fire. We usually go out to explore the world there, and we went around 12 kilometres that time. Through the fields, the skirts of the woods, the wilderness. Through the snow. There’s nothing more beautiful than the emptiness of the fields, the empty white horizon. Then again, your eyes are still searching for a tuft of grass, a shrub or a moving spot – a roe or some other creature… So that the eyes have something to lean on. They look for a sign, and from that sign, so it would seem, starts the impulse to create. Those spots are already the beginning of a letter…of a text.

 

I’m all for this emptiness. How much creativity lies in this emptiness? None. Or you could say that everything’s already created. As I said before, though – this sign is not unfamiliar to me. There’s a little bit of schizophrenia, tension, fury, contradiction here. This is probably the condition for creativity – the tension between the emptiness and the sign.

 

We’re too addicted to creativity. There are too many lies produced. Everyone seems to think they have to create. But try not to. Creative society, courses for creativity and writing, creative organisations, creative communities... The factories of creativity are buzzing, cartwheels of spiritual smoke pouring out of their chimneys. To create, so that translators have something to translate, publishers to publish, painters to paint, so that curators have something to curate etc., and the builders to build wide walls, so that there’s somewhere to hang the postcards. This is the echo of the ruins of the Tower of Babel. We ruminate on our pretension, egoism, our challenge to the gods. Towers and skyscrapers fall today, too, and nothing has really ever changed. And should it? They fall for the same reason – vanity, desire to step on other people’s toes, miscommunication. Human nature doesn’t change. But we need the hope, the illusion that it can be tamed, otherwise most of our lives will be destroyed and lose their meaning. Unfortunately, hope and illusion are the building matter as well as the binder of life. I don’t need hope, everything is already more or less clear – I dare say. I know it sounds haughty, pretentious. I’m not a nihilist, by the way.

 

All the while, literary festivals, translation workshops are sure to be worshipped and prayed to. Publicity, education, communication, connections, meaningful conversations, human warmth, friendship of the nations, meals etc. There’s enough CREATIVITY in there to make you sick. In the festivals, you can clearly see how everyone’s creating, oozing the creative sweat, wearing themselves out, showing off to each other the fruits of their creation that, let’s admit it, nobody really needs. I’m only sorry about one thing – after this kind of dithyramb, I won’t be invited to any kind of poetry festival ever. Too bad.

 

I’ve sent four poetry books out into this world, driven by neglect and vanity, but I hope that they were made out of UNCREATIVITY. I can tell you that in a way (what kind of way is that though?) I’m slow. From the modern perspective this kind of approach is, after all, retrograde, ineffective, outsider-ish. A successful writer must show his creative muscles, a poet must CREATE all the time, prove his supposed force, publish a book a year, hang around festivals, read at all kinds of bridges, fountains, stones, cultural centres, steamships, at a house where a scribbler or painter known only to natives was born, turn up in showy magazines. This is all too predictable, narrow-minded, and I highly doubt that it accumulates life.

 

This is the knowledge of life, I’ve only come this far, maybe I’m even marking time. I’ve walked around the country house with the aforementioned friend of mine in the range of 10 kilometres. I know a thing or two about the place. Only a thing or two. You always go in circles. In spirals. You follow the animal waste, the traces... We followed fresh traces of a moose once, we pursued it hoping to catch it, catch his image. We didn’t catch up with it. In other words, following someone else’s trail is hopeless. You won’t see any moose, I’m sure of it. As you know, I’m also talking about writing / not writing here. You have to be penny-wise instead of pound-wise. Then, coincidences take over. Creativity is a series of coincidences, and what you have to do is simply try and put them on a single backbone, introduce a structure to them. It’s also true that in order to be penny-wise, you need the four-wheel drive, a poetry jeep, fury, devotion, a certain Zen-like dumbness, otherwise you might get seriously stuck. There’s no middle ground, no compromise here.

 

Thus we’re waded in hopeless swamps and wetlands – they contain the mass of life. Any nature scientist will tell you that lucid pinewoods or parks are inefficient, they contain the minimum of life. Only squirrels and one or two butter mushrooms. Animals get out of there as fast as they can, they don’t stay there too long, they don’t have anything to do in there. They need shadow, more shadow.

 

Everyday life, simple physical work is what would always save me from creativity, otherwise I’d be long gone crazy or someone very much a PRIZEWINNER. This is the last thing I want. I like sweat, it connects the body with something we might call spirit, consciousness. Then you can go back without turning around, through the white fields, white pages, emptiness without wondering, delighted to not be creating anything. I’m on the side of life, it exceeds literature. Clearly. Walt Whitman spoke about reality having exceeded and demystified art back in 19th century, though it was in a slightly different context… Besides, in celebration of his 200th anniversary next year, his admirers will be able to take a sip of some liquor and snack on ‘Leaves of Grass’. I’ll take a sip myself.

 

Lighting a fire, no doubt, is a whole different thing. It’s the purest act of creation. I’ll admit that at the moment, at least (it’s simply what this phase is) I find myself boring, dull, I’m repeating myself. It’s a sign that I shouldn’t pick up a pen or a pencil. Yes, I write modestly, with a pencil or a pen...

 

I must say that most things are only beautiful (I’m not much of a fan of this term) from afar, from a certain distance. Have you observed, e.g. a cuckooing cuckoo up close? This is done, by the way, only by males, distracting attention from the females (who only chuckle) throwing eggs into someone else’s nests nearby. Such sexism, such debauchery! I’ve seen a cuckooing male from around 15 meters away. It sat on an apple tree in my garden. I even saw its throat. Believe me – horror, I was overwhelmed with horror that time. Pure horror. Perhaps it was the beauty and thrill. A voice from hell, from catacombs. I didn’t even think of digging into my pockets for coins, etc. If someone had asked me, I would have transferred all my money, every last penny. That very moment. Wherever I had to. To the bank account of an ornithological society or some delightful poetry festival… You have to move away on time, it’s unhealthy to be too close, you might get your eyes and ears burned. To see and to move away, to forget – this is another condition for un/creation. And to wait – till it possibly re-echoes.

 

2018

 

Translated from Lithuanian by Kotryna Garanašvili.

....
Gytis Norvilas

(1976) poet, translator, essayist, author of four poetry books. His first book Akmen-skeltės (Stone-splits), appeared in 2002, and was awarded with the Prize for Poetic Debut of the Festival Druskininkai Poetic Fall. The book Išlydžių zonos (Discharge zones) was awarded by The Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore as the most creative published work of 2012. In 2017 the book Grimzdimas (Sinking) was awarded with the main prize of the Festival Druskininkai Poetic Fall. He translates poetry and prose from German, Russian. Lives in Vilnius. Editor of cultural magazine Literatūra ir menas (Literature and art).