Jaunā Gaita nr. 119, 1978

JG 119

The literary section in this issue is particularly rich; we print works by three authors of imaginative prose and by four poets. Among the poets, the late Ausma Jaunzeme (1936-1978) deserves special mention. Her untimely death in February cut short a promising literary career, for, since the appearance of her first collection of poetry in 1971, she had established herself as an important voice in Latvian letters. In the memorial appreciation which also appears in this issue, Aina Kraujiete touches on some of the main themes of her work--her search for spiritual fulfilment, her consciousness of her identity as a Latvian, and her interest in other peoples. These themes are reflected in various ways in the poems that appear here.

Maija Meirāne writes poetry suffused with the feeling of folksong and folktale. "For Latgale" begins with a quoted folksong stanza about a linen weaver in a foreign contry, and then develops this old handling of the theme so as to apply it to her own relation to Latgale. She sees Latgale only in imagination--she has never been there--but she can feel the linen between her fingers, and through the imaginative mediation of the folksong she is united with her origins. "In Loom", "Reel I" and "Reel II" reflect some of the same themes. The first two are reminiscent of Latvian riddles and the last expresses the Latvian peasant's consciousness of the seasons and the returning cycle of the year, and finds consolation in it.

"Australia at the Turning of the Year, 1977-1978" by Valters Nollendorfs is a cycle of witty and learned poems about this author's discovery of the subcontinent. It is a geographical work, opposing the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, which approaches its subject with misgivings: "terra Australis, / terra terribilis". As the poet proceeds in his exploration this distrust changes, the two hemispheres are no longer opposed, but are seen to form two halves of one world, and the newly discovered merges with the familiar: "suddenly there was no more fear of infinity: a seashell in the hand like a piece of amber."

Rounding out the poetry in this issue we have two works by Visvaldis Reimanis, "Playing" and "Too Close". These are in a difficult, personal idiom very much unlike that of the majority of Latvian poetry presently being written.

Well-known Latvian authoress Ilze Šķipsna contributes "Times of Life", which might be described as a cautionary parable. Her two characters are seized while on a trip with an overpowering urge to see the view from the top of a skyscraper. They dream of the personal fulfilment they expect to find, and although they are responsible people with reasons to continue on, they turn aside. The heavenly dream becomes an infernal reality as they find themselves trapped in the underground levels, and the end comes as they sit in a stalled elevator listening to an alarm bell and waiting for rescue.

Laima Kalniņa was co-recipient of the 1977 Jaunsudrabiņš Prize for her story, "Where the Rivers Meet"; in this issue we print a self-contained section from that story, "A Town in the Mountains". Kalniņa is a subtle and sophisticateded artist, and her method is non-narrative, ranging from one moment of remembered experience to another far removed, drawing them together for a clue to the meaning of events. This is not "stream of consciousness" except in a very special sense; it is rather an epistemological fiction that sets out to decipher reality and to show it in a new light. Kalniņa herself gives an account of her method: "If I described all that I had seen and experienced, I thought, described it slowly and carefully, maybe it would become clear, ... I have to thread the moments into a string; only thus will I see the connection." The result is a spare, densely packed prose that reflects Kalniņa's complex insight into human life.

The longest prose work in this issue is Irēne Blūmfelde's "In Another Wakefulness", a story about an encounter between a grieving, self-pitying drunk and a middle-aged fortuneteller who picks him up in the street. She practices her trade on-him for the few dollars he has left, but all her efforts to get him to reveal his past and his hopes of the future, so that she may "tell his fortune" confidently, only arouse his distrust. Although he does not talk about them, her leading questions have brought his sorrows to mind, and as he sits before her he learns to accept them. Blūmfelde sustains an atmosphere of mystery as she unravels the intriguing psychological ironies of the situation.

Tālivaldis Ķiķauka appears with a short meditation on nature and art in Benita Veisberga's Notes from Orinda, a book that Ķiķauka characterizes as a series of "impressionistic scenes -- watercolors in words."

The state of the visual arts in Soviet Latvia in 1977 is the subject of Laimonis Mieriņš' article in this issue. Mieriņš surveys a large number of exhibitions of diverse forms and media -- painting in oils and watercolours, pastels, posters and other graphics, ceramics, textiles, and industrial and interior design. He comes to the conclusion, shared by Soviet critics, that there is a split in the language of the visual arts in Latvia. Interior design, ceramics, and a few other fields work with geometric, hard-edged forms that reflect conditions in a technological society, while painting generally confines itself to traditional subject matters and organic forms, which are foreign to the everyday visual experience of the majority of the public.

The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters, The illustrations of the literary section are by Ilgvars Šteins.


Dr. Jānis Svilpis

Jaunā Gaita