Birutė Grašytė-Black

- Lithuania -

Birutė Grašytė-Black was born in the midsummer of 1992, and grew up in Grašiai village, Utena district.  She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Lithuanian philology from the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, and with a master's degree in literary anthropology and culture from Vilnius University.  In 2022, her book I Paid with Lilac Leaves won the Lithuanian Writers’ Union’s first book competition.

The olive branch connecting the past and the present in the beak of a raven


Before Birutė Grašytė-Black has won the First Book Contest (poetry section) organized by the Lithuanian Writers’ Union, I had already heard and read some of her work – Birutė’s poems are vivid and laconic yet capacious, and I recall in them the particularly striking mythological imagery of devils.  So I’m tempted to begin with the motives of Lithuanian folklore and they impact on author’s poetry.  I would venture to say that these provide the foundation for the whole book – spirits, old riddles and folk tales, and numerous signs of the Devil’s presence. Birutė Grašytė Black grew up in Grašiai village, Utena district – and reminiscence of her childhood, mythological “colouring” found place in author’s poetry. It can be generally said that the childhood world is especially important in Grašytė-Black’s poetry. The author states on the back cover of the book: “The symbols in my poetry can be traced to the world of my childhood, full of light and darkness and things I cannot explain. This world is muted and suppressed, but it comes back in dreams, echoing, whispering, remaining present, and intertwining with the past.” The last and perhaps a principal poem in the book attests to the author’s statement: “My childhood stands / Posed for stepmother’s picture / Frozen in place” (“Childhood,” p. 60). So although childhood is there to be photographed by the stepmother, and it must obey and stay still, it nevertheless exists, preserved in these pictures of memory, reinvented and reimagined in the poetry of the present.


Grašytė-Black emphasizes the foundations that the past provides for personal development, especially in terms of the time spent growing up in the countryside, in the presence of nature, and in Grandmother’s embrace, which allows the subject to understand the laws of life and death. Life experience is to be earned through books and spending time outdoors and in harmony with nature: (p. 14): “I stood near the cow being milked, / Learning the multiplication table, / Hundreds of riddles and proverbs, / The calculation of the proximity of lightning, / The conversation with the echo – / It still remembers my name.”


What’s interesting is that Grašytė-Black takes these primary mythological motifs and imbues them with a level of personal significance, offering an authentic interpretation. The original approach usually results in a conversion of meaning, even in the direction of the absurd. For example, an untitled poem (p. 42) narrates how a “bay steed” is purchased, bred, and fed. The poem builds the story as if in anticipation of some grand, magical finale, but the steed is merely sold for beer (and some bubblegum for the kids). It makes the reader contemplate the depreciation and desacralization occurring at the juncture of times – the steed, previously a companion throughout the most important stages of human life, becomes a disposable tool; thus, previous meanings lose their significance. Literary critic Linas Daugėla refers to Grašytė-Black’s poetry as that which “plays on the factor of surprise especially well, giving the reader a cold shower, making them stop and think.”


In these poems, death is interwoven with life, refining the sensation that today’s perspective touches upon the things that are no longer accessible in the present reality. Thus, this tangible yet ephemeric presence of the past manifests itself in dreams. For instance, the subject wishes to and is moved to a safe, dreamlike environment – to the childhood village, a meeting point for the ephemeral and the eternally spiritual.


Grašytė-Black’s poetry is born from memory, from experience, from the salt of life and the reality of death, from that which was felt, from that which escapes the net of meaning – these “fish” can only be caught by a poem.


by Lina Buividavičiūtė,

translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas,

courtesy Vilnius Review