“While I live I will belong to every possible species, because I don’t want to be a collector’s butterfly”, told Gintaras Grajauskas (Lithuanian, b. 1966) in an interview years ago. What’s said is done: books of literary history and Wikipedia pages are constantly updating the list of his “roles”: poet, essayist, playwright, musician and songwriter; currently, director of Klaipeda Drama Theatre’s Literary Department.
Born in Marijampole, southwest of Lithuania, since the age of 7 lives in the port city of Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea. In 1987 graduates from the State Conservatory of Music, Department of Jazz. Founds and leads Kontrabanda, a bluesrock band where he sings and plays the bass. The band’s discography comprises 6 albums, mostly underground production.
Besides tours in Lithuania, the Kontrabanda took part in diverse international events: Gothenburg Poetry Festival, Sommerfest of Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin or the concert of Jim Hendrix jubilee in Moscow, to name just a few.
Bastart: Which did you meet first in your life? Music – or poetry?
Gintaras Grajauskas: Until I turned 25, everyone believed I would have been a musician. I graduated from the State Conservatory of Music, Department of Jazz, with a diploma in orchestra conducting, a profession never practiced.
As for the poetry, I approached it in a rather extravagant place: Soviet army. I was 19 back then and received a call, straight from the university, to play in the military orchestra – a lack of soldiers in the Soviet Union, I suppose… During the night watch I used to spend a lot of time in solitude, so I began to write. However our orchestra was of high quality, we used to play classical works adapted for wind instruments. Besides the tube, I played the bass guitar during the officers’ dances. Studying music is of great value to every poet, since it gives you a perfect perception of form.
B: How do your poems come about?
GG: Poetry, what is it in general? We can talk for hours and still remain without a clue. Poetry is everywhere – even here, in this moment. All you need is to grasp and take it. It’s this flash that constitutes the 90 per cent of all my writings. The rest is just skills and experience. To put it simply, the Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. In our life, to each of us happen myriads of poems, even to the ones who are far from the literary word – it’s just that they don’t notice it.
B: How to distinguish a good poem?
GG: As one great mind told once, there’s a simple criterion – it makes your hair stand on end.
From 2000 to 20006, on the coasts of the Baltic Sea, in the middle of the ruins of a fortification of the World War II, Grajauskas organizes Placdarmas (Place d’Armes), annual poetry festival aiming to give space to emerging talents. In 2004, Klaipeda assigns him the title Master of Culture.
B: You’ve promoted interest in many emerging poets. Is it difficult to discover new talents?
GG: Strangely no. Some years ago, I organized a contest for young writers and was feeling anxious for it seemed to me that in Lithuania no one was writing poetry any more. I was wrong: overwhelmed by texts of which a great part was amazing, I eventually decided to prolong the contest – it would have been too much a pity to leave those works in a drawer.
B: A poet is a walking anachronism, you told once.
GG: Isn’t it true? A poet is always an anachronism, whether nowadays or before Christ. A poet lives in his own dimension that differs from all the others. He’s an observer rather than a participant. Often, while getting older, you start thinking you’ve wasted your life – instead of living it, you’ve merely observed it.
In 2008, Grajauskas’ play Mergaite, kurios bijojo Dievas (A Girl Whom God Was Afraid of) receives the Golden Stage Cross Award, a Lithuanian theatre Oscar of sorts. Same year, he undertakes the direction of the Klaipeda Drama Theatre’s Literary Department.
B: In Italian theatres, artistic director is a common figure while literary director is an unknown role. Tell us more about it.
GG: It’s a figure we’ve inherited from the Russian theatre, during the Soviet times. A literary director is both an ordinary officer and a PR manager; a press spokesman and an advertising guru. The duties go wide: from composing condolences and greetings to negotiating with authors and translators, from searching for theatre plays to discussing copyright issues with agencies. I admit: it’s a total madness but by no means boring.
B: You’ve been living in Klaipėda for your entire life. What does this city mean to you?
GG: It is the only place in Lithuania where I can live and feel comfortable. The particular atmosphere it breathes helps it stand out from any other Lithuanian city. The sea makes difference, as well as the influence of the German architecture and culture. You can scent the spirit of the Scandinavian, the protestant. Despite the recent myths about Klaipėda as open and jazzy city, it’s pretty austere and cold. But if you manage to tame it or rather – if you let yourself be tamed – you’re gonna be ok.
It’s worth paying a visit to Klaipėda because it’s different. As for Vilnius, I associate it – due to my Soviet experience – with the architecture of barracks rather than Baroque. Klaipėda seems freer: it’s a light city.
B: After poetry volumes, a novel, essays, and theatre plays, in the 2012 you published a… fairy-tale book dedicated to “mad adults or prodigious kids”. How did you turn into a storyteller?
GG: That book was born under weird circumstances or, if you like, according to Zen Logic (to tell the truth, it is a Zen manual but only few know it). Its origins date back to some years ago, when I travelled to Scotland to create musicpoetry with local poets and musicians. Though I had no intentions to write a book, the Scottish mood has probably influenced me.
I’ve got a “normal” version, too. Long time ago, my youngest son asked: “Why never you write fairy-tales, Dad? I have to read those of others”. So I promised myself I would have written for him a story or two. Said and done. It’s just that in the meantime, my son has grown up: now he plays drums and writes nice poetry.For more information read Gintaras Grajauskas: Heart of Amber or visit Books from Lithuania page. For more information about Kontrabanda visit the official Facebook page.
Interview and English translation by Jurgita Po.Alessi