- Latvia -
Arvis Viguls (1987, Jēkabpils, Latvia) is author of four critically acclaimed poetry collections and translator from English, Spanish, Russian and South Slavic languages, as well as editor at literary magazine Strāva (Current). He has received Latvian Annual Literature prize for the best debut (2009) and the best translation (2022) among other awards. In 2017, international literary project Literary Europe Live selected him as one of ten New Voices from Europe and in 2022 he was shortlisted for European Poet of Freedom Award 2024, an international literary prize organized by city of Gdańsk. His most recent published translations are short story collection Encyclopedia of the Deadby Danilo Kišs and selected poetry of Ted Hughes (both 2023). His own work has been translated and published in more than 20 languages including books of selected poems in Spanish, German and Croatian. His latest poetry collection Blusu cirks (Flea Circus, 2021) will be published in Polish translation in 2023.
Arvis Viguls (born 1987) is a Latvian poet and translator. For his debut collection "Istaba" (The Room) (2009) he received the Poetry Day Award and the Annual Latvian Literature Award, the collections "5:00" (2012), "Grāmata" (The Book) (2018) and "Blusu cirks" (Flea Circus) (2021) have been nominated for the Annual Latvian Literature Award. Viguls has also received several awards for his translations and translations.
Viguls’ poetry is often described as manicured and laconic, but his poetic voice rarely becomes so alienated that it loses dynamism or tension. Writing about "5:00" and "The Book", Artis Ostups highlights Viguls’ kinship with late modernism; we may invoke Ted Hughes, whose selected poetry is due to be released in 2023 in Viguls’ translation, or Tomas Tranströmer. The author Arvis Viguls feels comfortable both in laconic free verse and in strict verse, while his speaker feels comfortable nowhere, often writing as a swindler or observer, sometimes – as a tyrant or loser. Ever absent and out of reach, Viguls calls and writes from distant cities, with one foot in another century or dimension – "The Room" is enveloped in four letters and a "tribute to friends beyond the border with no way back", and the frameworks of "The Book" and "Flea Circus" suggest librarianship and technical literature.
However, his poetry is also very physical and spatial. A large part of this is due to his effort in the full depiction of physical life, which leads not only from the cradle to the grave, but also to the kitchen, bathroom, supermarket and telephone booth. The world of Viguls’ poetry is sustained by an entire infrastructure of gutters, electrical systems, furniture, razors, clothes lines and other objects that are complicit, if not alive, in his poetry. As Raimonds Ķirķispoints out in his review of "The Book" (titled “The Review”), Viguls identifies himself with the book from the very first poem, and presumably identifies with plenty of other things throughout his books as well. In "Flea Circus", this relationship between the human and material selves has already been reversed, and most of the collection is devoted to bringing various objects to life.
I consider "5:00" and "The Book" to be two of the strongest collections in Latvian poetry of the past decade; these collections are my personal ideal for what a well-thought-out text looks like, so I approached Arvis as the editor of my debut collection without hesitation. I was surprised that after we had arranged the approximate sequence of the manuscript together, Arvis rarely changed the text during the editorial process, rather offering different solutions to individual nodes that I could not solve. That's how I envisioned Arvis’ own creative process, first marking the overall field and then looking for the right option among many.
With the release of "The Book", the question of whether Viguls would not have written himself into a corner started coming up in criticism and writers’ internal discussions – the poems seemed increasingly surgical, and we had to wait a whole six years for the collection. The most recent collection, "Flea Circus," charts an interesting path of retreat – humour. The talking, living and suffering things have given Viguls a second wind, departing from his usual territory and tone and writing about such everyday trifles as ants, typewriters and guillotines.
At the Hairdresser’s / Frizētavā
“Very short,” I reply.
“This much,” she shows me,
taking a tuft of it in her fleshy fingers.
“Won’t you regret it later?” she becomes curious.
I’ve also had longer hair.
At the time the hairdresser
had to hold back her tears while cutting it.
No, today I won’t regret anything.
Today it’s payback time.
Back then my hair
was long like a swing of a blade,
now I wanted it short
like snipped green shrieks of grass,
short like a pulse.
In those days my hair smelled like the forest,
today I want it
There’s only two of us in the hair salon,
which suddenly becomes bigger.
The room expands.
I sit silently
in the center of her cares.
I won’t say a word anymore.
I pay her
for this silence as well.
whether my wife would become jealous,
if she saw,
how this unknown woman
is working around my hair
with her scissors and comb,
running her fingers through my hair,
softly moaning from her efforts,
so she could move her body around the chair.
While she works with her razor
I feel her breath on my neck
this professional with a faint moustache
and the figure of a market meat seller.
Despite all her efforts,
I am only meat to her.
a sheep being sheared,
Having reached the end,
she will blow away the fine, black sparks with a hairdryer
from my forehead, nose, ears.
But, as she rubs gel in my hair,
for a brief moment it seems to me,
that I am her boy –
an infante in a blue cape,
that she finally undoes and shakes,
shattering this momentary illusion.
“A totally different person!”
she says, proud of what she’s done.
Yes I am totally different –
similar to someone,
whose heavy crown is raised from his head
and now he must walk
the cold, rainy streets –
sans a scepter or umbrella,
free, equal and a nobody
like everyone else.
WASHING FATHER / MAZGĀJOT TĒVU
He scrubs his father’s back.
His father doesn’t understand anything
and doesn’t reply when others
call his name.
He is too deep
in his body’s wrinkles and folds,
too deep for him
to come out of.
Once he awoke in an unknown place.
He put on his glasses.
The lenses steamed up
from what he saw
and his nose began to bleed.
When he returned,
he refused to talk,
that he had acquired over the years.
His windpipe froze over,
and the circulating blood is still
fighting in vain
to thaw it.
His heartbeats –
they are tracks in the snow
beyond the polar circle.
The wind covers them with snow.
Only the wrinkles
on his skin
are deep – deep
like surgical scars.
Time has left gashes all over his body
like an unskilled surgeon,
who couldn’t save anyone,
but just cut and cut, and cut.
He doesn’t talk.
His hair grows,
his nails grow,
but he doesn’t understand anything.
With a rough towel
he dries his father’s body –
a soft towel is of no use to anyone,
a soft towel doesn’t absorb moisture.
When he shaves his father’s beard,
his father sits in front of him, just
like old times, as he sat in front of
the mirror while shaving himself.
He puts on his father’s suitcoat.
It seemed too big.
His father shrinks
a few sizes a year.
The suitcoat’s pockets are empty
like his father’s memory,
its buttons are as dull
as his father’s gaze.
He combs his father’s hair
and ties his shoes.
He places his father
where the man of the house sits – at the end of the table.
His father doesn’t understand anything,
his dominion an arid field,
and he – his son – humbly nurses
that withering legacy of his.
COMMENTARY FOR VILLON’S EPITAPH WRITTEN FOR HIM AND HIS FRIENDS WHILE AWAITING THE GALLOWS / KOMENTĀRI VIJONA EPITĀFIJAI, UZRAKSTĪTAI VIŅAM UN VIŅA DRAUGIEM GAIDOT KARĀTAVAS
For those who are hanged
their last privilege is taken away –
to die on the ground,
as if the ground that had carried
was not able to bear
They die like the drowned
who have swam into the depths
and cannot touch
the ground with their feet.
The rest gape at them
or noblemen –
silently and from below.
Those who are hanged –
their throne is the air
and the swarm of flies around their heads –
No one can put
a flower or stone
in the place where their hearts
Only their shoes
hang in the emptiness
like strange fruits.
The wind rocks them.
COMMENTARIES: JOHANNES BOBROWSKI / KOMENTĀRI: JOHANNESS BOBROVSKIS
The grass is stretched out in all its height.
A singular column of smoke rises straight up,
measuring the low-lying clouds.
In the orchard
the green branches
are tangled up with those that are withered –
life lines and death lines.
The foliage frees itself from the ballast.
The hollow steps of the apples ring out.
a forest creature follows its tracks,
looking for fallen fruit.
The flight of a bird –
dark and mute lightening –
slowly flashes across the sky.
He was here
and saw it.
Language opened eyes
like someone who awakens in the night
from his own screaming.
What merciless lowlands!
What an unbearable forgiveness!
BODYBUILDERS IN THE WEIGHT ROOM / KULTŪRISTI SVARU ZĀLĒ
The sinews on their flesh form a complex pattern
like fine tattoos,
their muscles have grimaces –
even their butt cheeks are two faces,
two very sad faces,
that weep salty tears of sweat.
And the blood-vessels under their skin
are like a net,
they are caught in,
that they won’t get out of alive.
And somewhere deep in all of this
is the main muscle – the heart –
a fist-sized athlete,
a pocket-sized gym,
that has to keep this beast fit,
that has to keep it on its feet.
I imagine how after
they’ve shifted the tonnage of a row
of railroad cars from one shoulder to another,
they all wash themselves together in one shower,
because they have a hard time bending over
and they can’t reach behind to wash their backs
because washing such a body
is like washing an eighteen-wheeler.
Afterwards they return home
to their small wives
these small dumbbells of love
bleached blondes or dyed brunettes,
that love strength,
with whom they share an epilator
and artificial tanning cream,
that gives a shine to their cups and medals
and iron their short posing trunks for competition,
because strength and beauty demand sacrifice
and they offer that up.
But at night these enormous, beautiful men
lay down beside them –
to lie in one bed with a giant like this
is like lying in one bed with a brick house,
and it takes all night,
before each floor and brick is caressed
and then they finally fall asleep,
resting their tired, blissful heads
on the hard pillows of their men’s muscles.
BROTHER / BRĀLIS
You were four when they told you:
“This is your brother.”
They didn’t explain anything more,
they simply said:
“This is your brother.”
You were curious
and gradually suspicion was born in you.
I followed your footsteps,
everywhere I went you were already in front of me.
The door handle was always still warm,
when I grasped it in my palm.
And who always sat
in the front seat of the car next to dad -
at the right hand of father?
You hid me.
Everyone must have thought that you’re the only one.
How could anyone believe in your powers,
if there’s this double
behind your back?
You were afraid that I’d take away your scent
and no one would recognize you anymore.
I stood behind your back
in your old sweater,
shoes, the laces of which
always came untied.
I stood behind your back
putting stones in my pockets
so the world would finally feel
I observed and I studied
I was not yet ready
And I alone developed my abilities
polishing each vertebra,
that I acquired, standing in the shadows
would not need them anymore.
The sawdust spilled on the ground.
I worked like a patient artisan,
while putting myself together.
Sometimes you wanted to drive those stubborn sprouts
right back into me,
the ones, mimicking you,
that mocked you.
You thought they were weapons,
that threatened you.
“You can’t do that,” they told you
“That’s your brother.”
But you didn’t believe them.
Being a brother was a task
that I still had to fulfill.
And I waited.
I observed and I studied.
On the tips of my toes,
I strove to look over your shoulder.
The years worked to my advantage,
and then, one day, I came into the light.
I had acquired the family scent
and I carried the family traits on my face.
The sun was shining, but that didn’t bother me.
I finally had a shadow, still I had to break it in.
I was not yet perfect, still I was myself.
“This is my brother,” you said
“This is my brother.”