Friday, 3 October 2014

Lithuania Letter 2: From Druskininkai

Druskininkai: The stately pleasure dome decreed

Druskininkai - Drusk for short - is a spa resort in the far South of Lithuania. It looks like a cross between Socialist Paradise (TM protected) and Modernist Baroque in terms of architecture and disposition, with one river and two lakes and a great domed building that serves as health centre  with mud bath, massage, leisure activities and night club; the spoils of the West taking root in the Baltic. The trees are magnificent, all in 'their autumn beauty', ravishing, far from bare, but gently showering dry yellow leaves over the grass.

We walk down to the river and round the smaller lake on our free morning with our German friend Ludwig, then stop for a coffee in a very volkisch bar where the waitresses wear ethnic gear. Such things aways make me feel a curious mixture of unease and childish pleasure. We order acorn coffee as that is prominent on the menu but, disappointingly, there are no acorns, so we order ordinary coffee instead and sit and talk literature and politics, which is what civilised people do in such circumstances.

The festival proper begins in the afternoon with the raising of the festival flag on the lawn outside and the playing of the festival anthem. Then we proceed back into the hall and discuss the function or non-function of 'canonical forms' for some three and a half hours to a thinning audience. The discussion brightens up as it goes on, and once we have made an effort to distinguish between the idea of form and the idea of a canon we find ourselves making a few worthwhile points.

Poetry festivals are like this. We don't arrive at earth-shaking conclusions, but we talk for the amusement of the invisible poetry deities who are sitting at our elbows, occasionally nodding, occasionally yawning.

From the discussion we pass on to the readings - twelve poets reading for some two hours in all, complete with translations on the screen behind them above their heads, some into English, some into Lithuanian. This the genuine business end of the festival where the poets are what they claim to be: the authors of poems. And the poets are all different, of different ages, from different countries with differing poetics. Everyone has ten minutes and it works. Particularly delighted to make the acquaintance of poems by Donna Stonecipher, a Seattle poet long settled in Berlin. Calm, precise, architectural yet passionately driven poems, all in prose and soon to be published in the UK by Shearsman.

I read tomorrow.

Then, after the reading, a table at the restaurant-bar with a fine array of drinks reserved for the guest poets who can watch the readings in the other room on a large screen. The drinks go round, the laughter picks up, we open bottles of bubbly then, some of us, decide to retire to bed.

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