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Rimas Uzgiris

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(2014 - Translation)

"The Red Dress" by Judita Vaičiūnaitė

[translated from the Lithuanian]

A red dress throbs on a rope
like a torch left behind.
Moaning, clawing pines
assault the hotel window.
Someone washed the dress at dawn.
Someone wrung it out.
the radiance. The weather—
mindlessly sunny, humid, sharp.
A red dress throbs on a rope—
yet still, it will break free.

Kristalas: Poezijos Rinktinė. Lietuvos Rašytojų Sajungos Leidykla: Vilnius    (2010)             


from "Canon for Barbora Radvilaitė"

7. Barbora Radvilaitė

Like parchment that doesn't yellow, I will not age.
Love will be my power of endurance, like lines for the poet.
I was born here.
I became the renaissance of Vilnius.
From here I take my charm, the allure this place maintains.

Once dead, I returned. My coffin was dark and tight.
Beyond it—the rhythm of hoofs like the ticking of a clock.
Beyond it—the sighs of Sigismund, voiceless and hot.
Once dead, I returned—having come to believe in my own sky.

To this city in a fog—to the damp, humid glow
of its towers, to the warm, salving rain
I came.
They didn't force me to coronation, but having been exiled, they brought me back.
And I rose again—having touched this ground.

Kristalas: Poezijos Rinktinė. Lietuvos Rašytojų Sajungos Leidykla: Vilnius (2010)

Translations first published in The Drunken Boat

Excerpt in Lithuanian

Rimas Uzgiris' poems and translations have been published in Quiddity, Atlanta Review, Barrow Street, Hudson Review, AGNI, The Drunken Boat, The Massachusetts Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Iowa Review, Lituanus, Prime Number Magazine, inter|rupture, Presa Magazine, The Literary Bohemian, Literary Laundry, Brooklyner, Umbrella, Per Contra, and other journals. His book reviews have been published in HTML Giant, Post Road, Words Without Borders ,and Rumpus. His fiction appeared in Writer's Abroad: Foreign Encounters Anthology. He holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and received an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Newark University. Recipient of a 2013 Fulbright Scholar Grant and a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship, he teaches literature and creative writing at Vilnius University.

Photo courtesy of Rimas Uzgiris

Translator's Statement

In the post-war period, when most poets in Lithuania were writing about politics, or when they were focusing their lyricism on the pastoral, Judita Vaičiūnaitė, without ignoring either politics or her bonds with nature, became a poet of the city. Instead of paens to forest and farm, we find flowers growing out of cracks on the sidewalks, trees dropping their petals over garbage heaps, and run-down buildings overcome with a rich luxuriance of weeds. Instead of tradition-bound country life, we encounter the cosmopolitan woman discovering herself in cafes, cramped Soviet apartments, and labyrinthine streets. This thematic concern is connected to her style of sharp and sudden contrasts and juxtapositions. Tender lyricism is cut with violence and foreboding. Randomness, sudden change, and danger form parts of her poetic experience as much as the beautiful facade, the church bells, and the cobbled streets. Vaičiūnaitė's city is also the locus of her exploration of the modern woman's identity: single, educated, working, free. There are poems of love and poems of struggle against the restraints of a patriarchal world, of conflicts between the freedom and power to seek her own career path and the responsibilities of motherhood. Nevertheless, Vaičiūnaitė did not disconnect herself from her country's past, writing lyrical poems from the perspective of historical and mythological figures. Notably, her personages are often woman. As a result, the voices of Lithuanian history and myth have never been richer.

It is a continuous challenge for the translator to keep up with the stylistic shifts and multiple perpectives expressed in this body of work. I came to her poetry after several years of translating her contemporary and friend, Tomas Venclova. My experience of Lithuanian poetry was deepened by two weeks at the Summer Literary Seminar in Vilnius, after which I published my first translations of Vaičiūnaitė. A week as an invited poet and translator at Druskininkai Poetry Fall 2012 was followed by a semester-long Fulbright Grant to Vilnius University. My immersion in Lithuanian culture and poetry, and my almost continuous work as a translator of various Lithuanian poets both young and old, have prepared me for the task of giving English voice to the cornucopia in Vaičiūnaitė's Crystal [Kristalas], her selected poems, worthy of a wider audience than the Lithuanian language can provide.