Nojus Saulytis

- Lithuania -

I was born in the autumn of 1989 in Vilnius. I began to write poems relatively late, maybe at age 16, when I found my father’s old notebook full of poems. Besides writing, I like to make films, play chess, and give inflatable balloons to my friends. Currently I work in a museum that was once a jail (now a branch of Lithuanian National Museum). My first collection of poems, sms gėlytė (sms flower), was published in 2020.

The little flowers of saulytis

In Lithuanian, the saying “It’s just some little flowers” means that the event in question has not reached its full extent, that it is only the beginning, nothing to be taken too seriously. However, sometimes the things that, at first glance, seem simple and superficial are anything but.  


On the surface, sms gėlytė (sms little flower), the debut poetry collection by Nojus Saulytis, also appeals to simplicity and diary-like naiveté. Laconic poems (written in a lexicon close to a colloquial vernacular that does not shy away from Anglicisms, even though it does not overuse them), which record the seemingly mundane images and scenarios of domestic life, do in fact imitate the form of the SMS message. The rejection of punctuation also adds to this impression. On the other hand, the title, sms gėlytė, is ironically self-aware of its mimicry: a poem both conveys a subject matter (an emotion, a thought, or a mood) and reshapes it, much like the symbol of the little flower in an SMS message, sent because there is either no opportunity or no desire to present a real one. Therefore, the assumed adolescent naiveté is not just a feature of the text (or the author), but a theme that requires representative symbols to be conveyed.


Just like the author, who briefly introduces his biography in an “introductory word,” the subject of Saulytis’s poems is a resident of a “bedroom” neighborhood. The underlying bipolarity concealed in the apparently naïve, playful poems is specific to Saulytis interpretation of adolescence: it affects the subject’s relationship with the world and other people, with himself, and with his body and mind. The lyrical subject constantly fluctuates between euphoric confidence in himself and in others, and a close connection to his environment and the hopelessness felt upon his realization that both he and the world are flawed, fractured, vague, and indefinable.


Adolescence as a (lost) paradise, a domain of harmony with the self and others, is prevalent in the poems of the first chapters of the collection, for example, “(kadangi šiandien aš su baltais conversais)” [because today i’m wearing white converses] and in “role-play” poems. The illusion that this state will last forever is slowly but methodically broken down in later chapters: the texts become darker as ineffable tension rises. Primarily, the here and now becomes the there and then: even though adolescence, or at least the euphoric period of adolescence, is still very close, we come to understand that the time of harmony and joy has come to an end. With this realization comes an intensifying feeling of loneliness in the world; other people, their actions, and the mode of being in the world becomes an annoyance, a disturbance, and an intrusion into the subject’s consciousness: “you people who have opened your windows / speak quietly into your phones / today you should shout less / at your bitches / assholes / and children / because your words on high / turn into a kind of telepathy for me”. Religion, drugs (“asdf”), and meditation (“šizofrenikas bando medituoti” [the schizophrenic tries to meditate]) are employed in the hope of recreating a seamless connection with the world. However, even these practices cannot overcome the feelings of detachment or his internal fragmentation and bring the lyrical subject to an elated state that moves further and further from his actual experiences (“prieš metus” [a year ago]).


The interpretation of human relationships in sms gėlytė is also specific. The girls in Saulytis’s poems are not other, remote, or unknown. Also, communication with and even the representation of young women are not seeped in eroticism. On the contrary, not only does the lyrical subject communicate with girls via text messages and phone calls, he also, in a way, identifies with them. The subject often observes teenage girls and imagines their everyday lives: to him, those lives seem carefree and even blissful and therefore relatable to his own states of mind: “and teenage girls / will play guitar outside / and you will accidentally / end up in their  / amateur video / with your hair down / free / an actual living being / with your shirt / nicely buttoned / knowing them / down to the last one”.


A refusal to construct strict oppositions and the belief that “everything is made / of the same matter” is linked to another feature specific to the identity of Saulytis’s lyrical subject: a fluid, soft desire that is directed at everyone and no one in particular and is exemplified by conjunction: and and. This state is, of course, directly connected to the liminal identity of a teenager (or someone just transitioning out of adolescence), as it is a period of searching and not of definitive answers. 


To summarize, Saulytis stands out in the context of debuting writers of recent years for consciously avoiding the “big” topics and the poetics of high modernism, with all the rich metaphors and cultural symbols that go with it. On the other hand, the naiveté or the Naïve art features of the poems are only superficial: the everyday vocabulary, the concise phrasing, and the apparently trivial situations are all used as the means to convey the experiences of a maturing person. Of them, the most important are the emotional instability and a constant balancing between joy and disappointment, love and separation, the desire to preserve the old self, and to search for a new identity. Instead of the know-it-all attitude often adopted by young poets, Saulytis chooses the position of an observer and a questioner. “How is everything, and how should it all be?” asks “būti” (to be), one of the strongest poems of the collection. The best thing about it is that the lyrical subject answers this question ambiguously

by Virginija Cibarauskė,

translated by Gabija Barnard,

courtesy of Vilnius Review