Early in the morning on the shore of Lake Druskonis, a hatted man stops for a moment to light a cigarette. In the silence ripened with damp down plumps a robustly red maple leaf. An association strikes – fallen like a leather glove. The water is steaming: Having saved up the warm Celsiuses of yesterday inside, it now transmits a law of physics.
Vilniaus Street, the central artery of the town, won’t let any stranger get lost. It begins right here – by the lake, by the Gothic Catholic church, by the town museum. This is a pedestrian zone, equipped with parterres and ceramic sculptures by Jonas and Bernardas Arčikauskas. 825 metres later, we’ll bump into Maironio (he is a classic poet, and like many Lithuanian classic authors of the olden days, a priest on top of that) Street, into the grounds of Dainava centre where, at the beginning of every October, poets from Lithuania and all around the world flock and turn into birds: Hooting, chirping, cackling and bassing.
The international literary festival Poetinis Druskininkų ruduo (Druskininkai Poetic Fall), set up nearly three decades ago as an open-minded gathering of poet friends, is now quite official and project-based. That said, it begins in a casual way – in a minibus that carries a crew of guest poets from Vilnius to Druskininkai. Kerry Shawn Keys (an American poet who’s been stuck in Lithuania for twenty years already) opens up a nice little bottle of the Lithuanian drink, Starka.
Druskininkai Poetic Fall begins with the first step into Širdelė (Heartlet) Café. It begins with the glowing eyes and blissful smile of Rasa Petrušienė, the barkeeper of this place who has worked here for twenty-two years. Druskininkai Poetic Fall begins with meeting friends you haven’t seen for long years. I say my hellos, too, raising my peaked cap.
Hello, Zenonas Streikus, director of the Dainava centre that’s meant to aid poets. Those sitting at the table together don’t have a chance to avoid your latest anecdotes.
Hello, Andrius Mosiejus, the leader of the 3x artist group. It’s delightful to smell the delicious smoke of your pipe. Few people know you are the author of the festival’s emblem – an immense tree tossing its leaves.
Hello, Gintaras Žilys, sculptor and photographer, it’s nice to listen to your puns. You’re the general collector of the festival’s little moments. The walls of Širdelė Café are sprinkled with the faces of writers you captured for eternity.
Hello, Kornelijus Platelis, the miller of the festival, the beekeeper of the festival, the ant master of the festival! The black beret you’re wearing is tilted to the right, you’re holding a glass of red wine in your hand.
You can see faces you haven’t seen in a while just here at the table by the wall. Valdas Gilius, painter and owner of Sofa Gallery. Mikas Suraučius, musician and pioneer of Lithuanian big beat. Teresė Jankauskaitė, master of black ceramics. Rimantas Kvaraciejus, head of a photographers’ club. Closer to the window, composer Kęstutis Bieliukas and director Kęstutis Bočys are sharing something historically or culturally relevant.
The female staff of Dainava centre is finishing to provide all the guests with the room keys, badges, meal vouchers. Rūta Elijošaitytė, the driver at the wheel of Druskininkai Poetic Fall, delicately synchronising the timetable, attributing places to the vicegerents, sticking names to surnames, switching the unknown quantities and solving the remaining equations, makes a motion with her graceful hand, winks and smiles. Well? One thing left to do here is to put out the flag of the festival.
Life is lush and intense, bubbling and splashing for the whole weekend in town. Poetry is now in every step, every chord, every image and every pocket. A painted tousle-haired version of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis glances at the passers-by out of a showcase at an art salon. The garden of the memorial museum of his name smells of freshly fallen apples. The trees, denuding themselves slowly, give up more and more space to the sky. Now is the predictable time when time disappears, when you can receive a stranger’s phone call, when you can dream with your eyes so wide open.
Shutters of cameras are snapping greedily. Zenonas Baltrušis, the photographer of Maironis Lithuanian literature museum and Benediktas Januševičius, the constant capturer and spreader of the happenings of Lithuanian literature don’t let a single moment go to waste. We’ll find the recordings of this festival, along with the previous Druskininkai Poetic Falls, poetic afternoons, poetic evenings and poetic nights on the website.
On the final evening of the festival, the hall is always packed. I’m not saying this is important but, doubtlessly, the most curious hour of Druskininkai Poetic Fall is the one when the names of the winners of the Jotvingiai Prize and the Young Jotvingiai Prize are announced and the awards are presented. Both winners – the senior and the youngster – don’t have to wear suits and ties or insist on demonstrating their literary merits. They are allowed to be a little crazy, allowed to bumble disjointedly, allowed to listen to praise and not to feel important.
After a wild night slowly breaks the dawn of a damp Sunday morning. Raindrops patter rhythmically against the tin of the gutters – the very beginning of Steve Reich’s Drumming... Still sleepy, still sprawling in bed, I look through the vivid impressions and in my own virtual storage room, I make records of the emotions experienced.
The raincoated stranger sits down on a bench in front of Lake Druskonis. Lazy ducks peck at something peckable. The man closes his eyes for a minute, and a strophe of a poem begins to twine…
Translated from the Lithuanian by Kotryna Garanašvil