- Lithuania -
Dovilė Bagdonaitė (born 1991) is a visual artist and poet. A graduate of the Vilnius Academy of Arts, Bagdonaitė earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in monumental painting before pursuing a doctoral degree and receiving the title of Doctor of Arts in 2022. She’s active in the field of visual art and has created works for display in the public spaces of Vilnius.
Bagdonaitė published her first poetry book Blue Whale’s Heart in 2016 after the manuscript earned her the first place in the LWU’s First Book Competition. She has also published poetry in Šiaurės atėnai, Kreivės magazine, and Poetry Spring anthologies. Bagdonaitė’s second book Tracks_in_the_grass was published in 2022 and short-listed by the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore among the Top 12 Most Creative Books of 2022 and the Top 5 Poetry Books of 2022.
When Everything Is Still Ahead
Poet Dovilė Bagdonaitė (b. 1991, lives in Vilnius) studied fresco-mosaic and monumental art before earning her Doctor of Arts degree with a thesis that explored the topic of creating art and living. The thesis delved into the naïveté of a pastoral worldview and the figure of Don Quixote; these themes are also originally reflected in her poetry books Blue Whale’s Heart (2016) and Tracks_in_the_grass(2022, short-listed as one of the Most Creative Books of 2022 and nominated in the Poetry Book of the Year contest).
The coming-of-age story of a young female artist is at the center of Bagdonaitė’s poetry. Thus, her texts naturally touch upon experiences like reflecting art, being yourself, or finding unrequited love. These are classic themes, but the poet has chosen to convey them through the vector of youth – a period marked by its many stereotypes, like immaturity, superficiality, carelessness, and the belief that young people get a free pass, since this period is one of seeking answers but not necessarily finding them (“You have your whole life ahead of you…”). As an artist, Bagdonaitė is interested in precisely suchclichés of thinking. For her they provide a foundation to explore how a young individual searches for identity, maintains their relationships, and struggles with social expectations (like building a career or finding a romantic partner).
We won’t find here the gravity, the philosophy, or the visionary attitude so characteristic of “adult poets.” On the contrary – Bagdonaitė’s work appears to be deceptively simple and mediocre on purpose, as it’s not afraid to voice its own limitations. The feelings conveyed (like honesty or nihilism) are sufficient enough to become the most important messages of the text. Bagdonaitė’s poetic voice approximates her to new sincerity, one of the poetic movements adopted by contemporary Lithuanian poets. The adherents of new sincerity are prone to exploring the present-day meaning of authenticity. The need to understand it leads poets to become more “real” and establish a close connection with their audience. We may also understand authenticity as a moral category that shapes speech which is meant to reveal a personal, subjective truth without any metaphorical flimflam. New sincerity was determined by the pressures of contemporary life and severe socioeconomic changes; hence the poetry, too, seeks to understand not only the individual but also the individual’s role in society.
Considering this, the use of immaturity as a creative strategy is what makes Bagdonaitė’s poetry unique. In her work, youthful thinking is conceptually associated with the naïve style, primitivism, and performance (e.g., Bagdonaitė’s concrete poetry, based on rudimentary sounds suitable for conveying emotion, like in the poem “The sounds of a frying egg”). With an adolescent bravado she emphasizes that there exists a line between pretense and honesty. And with an ironic smirk she shows she’s not afraid of kitsch and its artificial nature, whose essence is to show us that something is not what it appears to be. A perpetually relevant topic.
It is interesting to note how the poet applies visual art principles to her texts and works with ideas like an artist would. Because of this, Bagdonaitė’s poems are like repositories layered with situations,compositions of images and objects, and collages of colorful imagery. The art is not meant to recreate the forms of reality, but instead to “practice” them in a creative way through new contexts, furtherdevelopment, or play. For example, the poet likes to materialize and visualize ideas and to rely on her imagination (e.g., the body as a machine, holiness as a pragmatic concept, or a meeting with Mona Lisa). Yet the images are stiched together in a way that is not refined or elaborate but simple and devoid of intellectual reflection. This is how the poet subtly disagrees with the notion that poetry is an especially personal art; here biographical events can become documentary materials for discussing social injustice or identity issues. Thus, Bagdonaitė’s texts draw attention to the fact that literary work is an artificial creation.
So what makes this creation a living and impactful one? I believe it is the poet’s subjective point of view and sensitivity communicated through these poems. Art history and motives “from the lives of artists” are associated with existential questions. Interestingly, when the author raises these questions, she remains in the position of an observing collector (museum visitor, art student). And the great intrigue of Bagdonaitė’s poetry is just that: although the poem offers an “objective” perspective, it doesn’t necessarily match the subjective (muted) opinion of the poet. We may suspect that we’re speaking to a curious, caring, and liberal-minded individual who values high art and culture but doesn’t believe in authority anymore, and not a guru who appears to offer mature solutions to life’s problems.
This conveys the importance of being in the state of becoming. And what if there’s any credence to the youthful mantra that “everything’s still ahead”? Confronted with the world, Bagdonaitė’s poem functions as a medium for showing the various tensions, attitudes, and stereotypes in our society. The naiveté and the irony show us the issue, but aren’t weaponized to find the solution, because we see how difficult things truly are.
Thus, the layered imagery in Bagdonaitė’s poetry deserves scrutiny, and its compelling enough to pose the question of whether we can always trust the imago. The daily life of the young artist is permeated by both playful and serious attempts to understand the truth. Luckily, her work still doesn’t offer the answer to the question of what is the art of life.
Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas
My Car / Mano mašina
I’m driving a black car through these years
and still unfilled notebooks lie on the back seat
but I threw out all the old messages
held in the corpses of uncharged phones
as I drove over the singing bridge
polluting the river as if I were spitting out
long ruminated gum for a bird to eat –
that’s how much I was sick of them
the mirror writes history backwards
and the left-overs of traffic lights
contained in square sticky notes on the road
develop clearly in the night
they flash in prairie paragraphs you haven’t finished reading
and green turns red if you jump to the next chapter
the dashboard glows and the speedometer shows
220 words per hour so I press the pedal to the metal
while a coffee pot steams in the car’s kitchen
bubbling and boiling while ice cubes freeze
this is where I sleep with the autopilot on
the climate control set to the correct temperature
the floor covered in faux oak rugs
and the bedsheets beyond clean
the car doesn’t seem so big from the outside
but that’s just a trick to keep the car catchers away
the hazard lights are blinking
and the radio is set to watermelon sugar
a lonely gas station with a curving roof
squeezes into the groin of the branching street
goldfish inhabit my wallet
and my airbag inflates to leave me
with a feeling of security just as moonlight
falls through the window onto your feet
and you sit there: a being of beautiful banality
Days of Online Forums / Portalų dienos
We used to meet in various
urban haunts to play chess
with the warm milk of our first meetings
still spilled over the glands of our pawns.
Subtly and politely my foe
questioned the hall employee
about what liquids and solids they might have
and not a bead of sweat – calm and composed as if
time and the necessity of deciding were not pressing –
that’s how he played.
We met in this partly neglected online forum
that showed the kilometers separating its inhabitants
and since we were only separated by a river we planned to swim
but ended up getting together using the standard bridges and streets.
Later he contacted me less and less often
flying to this or that country somewhere
on large airplanes like a bishop moving
right across the board and he sent no more
codes for where to push the pieces.
What distance would the dingy
deserted forum now show between us
with the chess boards overturned
and the kings packed away in boxes.
I stayed right here
and he went to work
I stayed right here
above the checkered page of a notebook
pushing around the figures of words.
From Anthropological Notes on the Image / Iš atvaizdo antropologijos konspektų
for Tojana Račiūnaitė
There is Twardowski’s mirror
with which he summoned Radvilaitė’s soul, but
when he became a Christian, he gave the mirror
to the church, and it stands there on a wardrobe
where only God can use it.
There was this girl, Ona Maria Teresa
who died when she was two, but her future was already painted:
at six, she’s composed of her parents’ faces
her mother wanted her canonized; there are
pictures with special bindings nailed to the frames
because without them you could go mad while you look
as happens with the death of your child.
There is space left for nailing up your waxen wants;
there is space for melting them into candles and
lighting them up; Agatha has two breasts censored
into loaves of bread;
protect me from fire, I ask of you.
There are ghost theaters and spirit machines,
liquid Nitrogen steam to burn off moles;
there is a bodily left-over, a deposit, that fits into a statue
like a battery charging the simulacrum of a body.
There is the pleasure of infection when
you rub the handkerchief on a sacred object
and it becomes sacred too.
There is a body like the bearer of an image –
just put on a wreath, hold a cluster of grapes
and look: you’re Bacchus now
singing it, all of it –
Mona Lisa / Mona Liza
a woman comes up to me on the bus and says
I see that you like it
I like it I say a lot I say I’ve got a Mona Lisa
just like the one painted on your belly she says
I could sell it real cheap no thank you
I don’t have the wall space
I answer regretting it a second later
OK I changed my mind
let’s go to your place and check it out
I walk into her apartment steeped
in an old person’s scent it hasn’t been
aired out in a while but there are lavender pillows
lying around from Drogas
and on the the brown stained wallpaper
there’s a mirror with gold frames
as in the Louvre
so where is the Mona Lisa I ask
take a look she says when you go up
to the mirror you see
how much of me there is I worked hard
for everywhere you look I am there
you’re carrying a printed edition of me
you like me so stay and care for me
and when I die the imago of my face
will be taken over by you and when I look again
at my reflection I understand that one hundred
years have gone by and the mirror has run like a river
The Sound of One Egg Frying / Kepamo kiaušinio garsai
sizzle sizzle hiss chirr haha cha cha cha
fizz chirr ha-HA hA-Ha jiggy jiggy hello
pop fizz brrriiing!
A Night in the Catacombs / Katakombų naktis
Above the surface of the earth, bones are connected by wires,
screws and spokes, those invisible signs of connection
arranging events into the form of a crocodile’s gaping jaws.
Punctuation plays that role in a text.
Why is it called “punctuation” and not “connectuation”?
It’s so existentially sad.
It’s so existentially sad.
It’s a dinosaur assembly –
and you’re so far away.
A passer-by is peeing bicycle spokes into the river so loudly
you can’t not hear it, another one already turned away, and a step further
there’s yet another, as if someone had turned on all the faucets
and civilization were flowing down the gutters; someone sticks
a butt into the mouth of a skull, extinguished, it seems,
as if into van gogh’s painting,
such is the fear of holes – a current of trypophobia
breaking through the paper
pish pish pish.
In the paleontology museum
elephant bones are connected by punctuation,
Quasimodo has crumbled into dust
and crystal is overgrown with crystal.
An oasis of trifles, an elephant paradise, and descending
you find rubber teeth and eye magnets,
further down, now underground, other people’s bones
like stacks of wood pleasantly piled
one on top of the other:
Cité des Arts / Cité des arts
Marika is telling me about a man
who won’t leave his wife
because of a child he has to care for.
It’s all over – that’s what he wrote her.
I feel like I’ve been fooled –
this is the South, but it’s cold,
like back home in the North.
Marika is from Finland.
Love. Children. Family.
Je ne veux pas, Marika sings, laughs,
and I harmonize with her on a synth
which she just bought with compensation –
the psychological kind.
Can you desire more than one person?
she asks me now, while other residents
come over to drink tea in her studio,
including Salem, a tall, dark-skinned man
from her most secret fantasies.
Marika, you’re hungry, I say,
let’s go to town for a bite to eat.