Dovilė Bagdonaitė

- 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 atėnaiKreivės 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.


Neringa Butnoriūtė

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas