An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Selected and translated by M.G. Slavenas
Lithuanian Writers' Union Publishers
Sirvydo 5
ISBN 9986 39 29 7

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	I build homes with poems.
	I have nothing else to give.
This is a beautifully produced, bilingual edition of Janina Degutyte's selected poems. Dagutyte's literary career coincided with the half-century of Lithuania's occupation by the Soviet Union. She was born in 1928 and died in 1990, just one month before Lithuania regained independence.

Dagutyte is a lyrical poet, with a quiet voice, yet one who is unafraid to tackle the historic events which impacted Lithuania: the Nazi invasion, the Holocaust, the Soviet occupation, and later the destruction of the environment. She also writes poems to her father, mother, grandmother and son. There are nature poems, love poems, and memories of childhood. Yet in her poems the personal is often inseperable from the political. It could hardly have been otherwise her father was shot by the Nazis in 1942.

Dagutyte's poems are drawn with clear, simple brush strokes. Take these lines from UNDELIVERABLE LETTERS, dedicated to her father:

	Tonight you came
	and told me that you were cold
	and had no place to get warm 


	And we were like two old friends,
		like two children.


	I closed my eyes to hold you
	one more time, to warm your palms
	with my mouth,
	to tell you:
		forgive me,
	my clumsy childish hannds
	did not know how to comfort you then.
With a single image she can evoke the tragedy of a generation from YELLOW STARS:
	The sky is starless and black.
	All yellow stars are on earth.
	Nine bullets passed him by.
	The tenth cut my brother down.
	Where his head fell a rose bush grows.
In her poems to her country, Degutyte writes of hope and desire in a disguised manner that will be acceptable to the Soviet occupiers from CASSANDRA:
	I could tell you:
	when it dawns, every bell
	in the world begins to sound.
	And for one instant the sun
	lifts the heavy stone.
		But who will believe me?
As we learn from the translator's afterword, Degutyte had a tough childhood by anyone's standards. After her father was shot by the Nazis, she was brought up by her alcoholic mother, who subjected her to prolonged physical and mental abuse. Yet Degutyte "did not turn hard and cold". Rather she used poetry to try to heal the wounds of the past. Sadness is always present, and so are regret and longing. But by her honesty, understanding and the sheer beauty of her lyrics, her work in the end affirms and offers hope as in ON THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE:
	I don't think
	it all ends
	with a little heap of
	frozen February soil.
	One falling star
	can transcend the deepest night.
My only criticism of the poetry is that it sometimes comes across as sentimental. This may be a question of the problem of translating from Lithunian into English. However, this detracts little from the overall value of Degutyte's work.

If you are in any way interested in post-war central European poetry or would just like to read poetry which really has something to say, then get hold of a copy of this book.

reviewer: Ian Seed.