Taisija Oral

- Lithuania -

Taisija Oral was born on 28 March 1984 in Vilnius. She studied Russian Philology studies (Vilniaus University), later – joined PhD programme at Vilnius University and the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore. On the basis of the dissertation, the book titled Dainiai be tautos. Lietuvos rusų rašytojų strategijos (po)sovietmečiu (Poets with no Nation: (Post)Soviet Strategies of Russian Writers in Lithuania) was published (2013, LLTI Leidykla, series Ars Critica). Since 2014 she lives in Abu Dhabi. She translates Lithuanian and English poetry into Russian.

In 2016, her first collection of poems titled Šeštadienis (Saturday) was published (Суббота, Калининград: Phoca Books). The second poetry book is under preparation. Its planned publication: 2018.

Verses of Self-reflection and Naivety

Poet, literary scholar and translator Taisija Oral is an exceptional phenomenon in the Lithuanian literary field. It is exceptional because, first of all, she is a scholar who is writing poetry. Poet Tomas Venclova, who has recently celebrated his 80th anniversary, has claimed during one of the discussions held on this occasion that a scholar writing poetry is no longer a common phenomenon in the world. Lithuanian scholars actually prefer the essay or the novel. Meanwhile, Oral, who used to teach sociology at Vilnius University, published a scientific study intended for the Russian literature in Lithuania titled Dainiai be tautos. Lietuvos rusų rašytojų strategijos (po)sovietmečiu (Poets with no Nation: (Post)Soviet Strategies of Russian Writers in Lithuania) in 2013 and a debut poetry book titled Šeštadienis (Saturday) Суббота, Phoca Books) in 2016.

Another reason for the uniqueness id the fact that Oral is writing poems in Russian. Therefore, the poet belongs to the same Russian authors with Lithuanian origins which she has examined in her study. The strategies of success and failure have been distinguished in the latter, the factors were analysed which determine the poet’s being recognised, in addition to the artistic value. And, although few years after the publication of the first poetry book it is too early to decide whether works by Oral will gain recognition, her poems sound fresh, which is a common case among peripheral authors, and new interpretations of topics common in Lithuanian literature are exposed, peculiar correlations of poetic influences and intertexts, starting from the “local Baroque” by in the Krokodilas ryja akmenis (Crocodile is Swallowing by Stones) cycle dedicated to Vilnius to the naivety by which Neringa Abrutytė’s works are characterised.

The very title of the Šeštadienis collection suggests that the seriousness and particular gloominess common to the young Lithuanian poets should not be expected. Saturday is a day meant for rest and even fun as all work of the previous week is either done or postponed and the new week has not yet started. Saturday can also be understood as a metaphor of a middle-age person: childhood, adolescence, i.e. the period where the personality is still forming, is already in the past; however, the so-called real maturity, all-knowing wisdom of life are not yet relevant. This interpretation is enabled by the fact that there are quite many examples of childhood and adolescence in the book by Oral; for instance, the entire second chapter titled “Childhood Legends ad Myths”.

Childhood, and even subsequent spaces, even Vilnius in winter are flooded by the heat of Sevastopol where the narrator used to spend summers. Therefore, in the poems by Oral, it is warm even in the middle of winter which is favourable image of Lithuanian poets: “Winter in Lithuania is an etude painted by a colourless pencil [...] / The thermometer is above zero. Six months left until summer. / No ending, no light”. Although the phrase “No ending, no light” is allegedly suggestive of suffering, it is soon denied by an exalted diagnosis: “Winter in Lithuania is neurosis”. Childhood experiences are also balancing between a joyfully melancholic tone and a self-reflexive ironic tone. For instance, the speaker of the 5th poem from a 6-part cycle titled “Internal Monologue of the Main Character” is complaining: “Mother, I don’t want to be a yellow confetti shooter any more. / I want to be a snowflake. [...] Mom, just don’t tell anyone: / all children know that the Santa Claus is Zinaida Terentjeva. / Can you tell her that I want to be a snowflake? / ‒ It doesn’t matter that I’m no blonde?”.

The alleged naivety and self-reflection, “innocence and shame” (poem (live pictures)) constitute the dominating register of the poems by Oral, regardless of whether she is writing about romantic love (chapter “Morning Anthems”), or about the process of writing poetry, the poet’s obligations (dominating “Evening Confessions”). Meanwhile, the forms of poems vary from the traditional metric quaternary to haiku ore even one line in the chapter titled “Wolfish Sky”. In the latter, attempts are made to find a form proper for intensive experiences which are short-term at the same time, the so-called flashes of existence or mind to be captured: “if you stand/ in front of the window / and it seems that the wardrobe / is slowly breathing behind your back / it means that you are at home / again”; or – “is there something sadder than plasticines”.

It is interesting that the place of the classical quaternary is more and more often taken by vers libre in the newest poems by Oral. Perhaps this might be interpreted as a particular end of the poetic childhood first of all related with traditional metric schemes highly preferred by classical poets (especially Russian canonical poets)? On the other hand, playful reflections remain. For instance, in the cycle of poems titled “Game Parts” volleyball, the sports game, becomes a conceptual metaphor whose structure and measures such as “pass”, “attack” etc. are employed in describing the specifics of human relations, feelings and behaviours: “The time comes when the attack / becomes unavoidable. / Either you or them. Either victory / or loss. The decision / (to hurt or no) has been taken / much earlier. [...] Preciseness is necessary for the attack, concent- / ration, during which / no additional movements should be present, / nothing personal. / The best ones attack with the humility / of a bee, thoroughness / of guillotine, not applicable/ to anything else”.

By Virginija Cibarauskė