Tomas Petrulis

- Lithuania -

I was born in 1987 in Panevėžys (the fifth largest Lithuanian city known in the past for its theatre, industry, and organized crime, not much else). Birth befell me two weeks early, and this was the first and since then the last thing to have happened to me too early.


I learned everything required for the survival of a young man in Lithuania in the most athletic school of my city. Any of the skills for swimming that I previously had I lost in the school’s swimming pool. It was a shallow pool, meant for walking. Others were luckier though; the school even raised some Olympic bronze medallists in swimming.


After school, in 2007, I enrolled into a Bachelor’s history program at Vilnius University. In 2012, having defended my thesis Students of the Jesuit Academy in the Public Life of Vilnius, I became an expert at students.

During 2013–2015, I studied for a Master’s degree in religious studies in the very same Vilnius University. I defended my thesis The Hesychastic Method of Prayer: Barlaam of Calabria’s and Gregory Palamas’s Polemic and thus became… I can’t quite describe who I became in simple terms.


I began writing poetry while still in school, out of boredom, about when I lost all of my swimming skills. I had to do something, right? My works were published in cultural journals, and I have been a participant of poetry festivals (the Poetry Spring, Druskininkai Poetic Fall) since 2005. My debut e-book The Snake of Noise was released in 2017, which was included in the top twelve listing of the most creative books for 2017 and among the top five works selected for the Poetry Book of the Year competition of 2018.


Second book – Sterile, released in 2020,was the finalist for the Most Creative Book. A selection of my work was published in Ukraine: Footnote on a Dead God (translated by JurijZavadskyj and Marius Burokas).

A Journey Through a Sinful Consciousness


Whenever Tomas Petrulis (b. 1987, lives in Vilnius) reads to an audience for the first time, it’s always interesting to see the range of reactions his poems evoke, from confusion and disdain to laughter and encouragement. Petrulis, a graduate of religious studies and history, is the author of two critically acclaimed books – The Snake of Noise (listed among the Most Creative Books of 2017) and Sterile(nominated for Poetry Book of the Year and shortlisted in the Most Creative Books of 2020), which have earned him both love and contempt.


The controversial nature of Petrulis’s poetry lies in its awkward choice of material and the naïve voiceof the subject. It can most easily be associated with the carmina Anacreontea, racy Ancient Greek poems inspired by the political and social events of their time, and the trickster archetype, traditionally linked to carnivalesque play, physical lust, and madness. The poet himself has once said he aims to write religious poetry, even though controversy, sacrilege, and matters of the flesh are not typically associated with the genre.


Christian martyrdom is at the center of Petrulis’s poetry, emphasizing that humans are naturally sinful and susceptible to various irritants. The contemporary world is full of these irritants, which make it a difficult place to adapt to; the poems touch upon normalcy, gender, tolerance, and other universal questions. We traditionally associate the experience of Christian suffering with moral growth and sanctity. But in the company of righteous poets, Petrulis arouses suspicion. Not many believers would be so undisciplined as to trace climate change to the rotting wounds of Jesus Christ, or admit their subject to be aroused by the “pistil clit of moral law.” In Petrulis’s poetry, Christianity is a universal worldview that provides an understanding about the roots of good and evil, but the poet expresses itwithout a specific identity. Instead it is communicated through the use of an abstract entity, i.e., the “Other” (“voices,” “maybe not ‘he’ it’s just a gendered word,” “mommy [who] pulled herself out of her … pulled herself like a daughter”).


So what is this Other? The easiest answer: consciousness. It appears ironically naïve, anachronic and thus resistant to the change of times, trends, and the prevailing social norms (e.g., the body is “the purest bag of skin” which hides irrational desires); it becomes an environment for tensions and controversial visions of different kind. The encounter with such a Christian consciousness is not a pleasant, and yet not a personal experience either. The strength of Petrulis’s poetry lies in its emphasis on the process of discovery. We get to observe many instances of sinful behavior – mental, verbal, and physical – as well as fantasies, bodily sacrifices in the name of suffering and pleasure, and seemingly irrational confrontations with the sources of sin. Petrulis offers so many of these variations that any preconceived notions of sacrum and profanum must be set aside.


An important aspect of Petrulis’s writing is the separation of private and social life. Some texts depict the subject living out carnality to the point of ecstasy, while others show the subject as forced to integrate into social life and share a space with others. The religious experience is likened to the erotic, as it allows one to attain enlightenment in a way that is intimate and focused primarily on the senses. This experience is also important for realizing oneself as existing beyond the confines of social roles. The poetic consciousness of Petrulis, when placed in a social setting, becomes especially vulnerable and haunted by a perpetual feeling of guilt. The obligation to communicate forces the subject to rely on language, study social conventions, and accommodate others. Thus, we see another important aspect of Petrulis’s poetry – its critique of contemporary life.


Some of these poems present the image of a captive consciousness – coerced and controlled by discourses that shape how we understand reality. Language in particular is depicted as the factor limiting the individual, because it cannot replace the value of uncensored sensory comprehension (which we usually view in a negative light). To comply with order, to be progressive and modern, and to utilize the servant of coercion – language – becomes a philosophical and existential problem.


Petrulis is not inclined to specifically answer what does it mean to be yourself, or at what point does an individual become free. But he shows the existing friction between body and language and develops this tension up to the point of perversion (corpses, pornography, penetration of letters), thus imbuing his poetic world with its signature sinfulness. The poet uses an ostensibly naïve diction to doubt reality and shed a quite different light on contemporary society than the public space would dare to accommodate.


We can consider Petrulis’s poetry as uncomfortable and radical per se, but not because the poet might wish to appear a rebel or write explicitly. On the contrary, many of the intimate experiences of the carnal nature or those associated with the tricks of Eros are described in an appropriate way. For example, lust is regarded in ancient terms as a natural sphere of “nature.” It doesn’t seem like a vulgarthing to say, but it’s enough to evoke the very idea in our minds. It’s interesting to see how this poet-trickster plays on our beliefs and shows how many taboos we’re plagued with and how many things just “don’t go along.” We suspect Petrulis of sin because of his proper manners and the dominant cultural connotations. Thus, his “naïve” poetry challenges the way we think. And it’s particularly charming because it doesn’t fight its own nature or adhere to the attitudes of our time. I believe that’s still something to be proud of in poetry.


Neringa Butnoriūtė

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas