Jaunā Gaita nr. 116, 1977

JG 116

Our essays, and some of our poetry, explore the fragmentation of Latvian culture, pursuing it in its guise as the division between émigré and Soviet Latvian communities and also in the splits within these two, such as the official culture against the marginal or underground one in Latvia and the tension between the generations among the émigrés. Dr. H. Biezais (Dept of History of Religions, The Academy of Ĺbo, Finland) has given us excerpts from a talk he gave at a European Latvian Congress in Stockholm in 1966 on "Latvian Culture in Occupied Latvia and in Exile." This is a strongly felt argument for the unity of the two Latvian cultures, in spite of the encompassing surveillance in Latvia and the more hidden propagandistic attitudes of the émigrés, some of whom condemn all Soviet Latvian art and science wholesale, thus ignoring the "other" culture which comes about in spite of the party line. Biezais cites publications in historiography, literature, and linguistics of such value that we ignore them at our own risk. Poet Gunars Saliņš writes a deeply probing, imaginative essay comparing 2 new volumes of poetry--one by Latvian SSR poet Jānis Rokpelnis and the other by the Stockholm author Juris Kronbergs. Both use deliberate dissonances and seeming absurdities, but neither truly belongs to the tradition of nonsense poetry. Instead they are serious and affirmative in spite of the absence of ultimate meaning and find intrinsic value in the process of living, through human concern and the sense-making power of their art. The question posed at the outset--whether there is a general convergence of Latvian SSR and émigré poetry--remains unanswered, as it was meant to be. Author and artist T.Ķiķauka describes the emotionally charged occasion of the visit in Toronto of the most prominent Latvian SSR poet Imants Ziedonis. He evokes the atmosphere of the performance while presenting an intelligent reading of Ziedonis' work and stressing some of his poetic devices, such as his associative technique and the close proximity of prose and lyricism. Ziedonis' interesting delivery and the innovative use of language (playful but never mere game--an instrument of discovery, unveiling unexpected connections) are also discussed. 'J. Klīdzējs explores some tensions of the émigré community in his comment on Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freibergas' talk, reprinted in JG 112, on emigration psychology which he finds analytically perceptive, as well as empathetic. Klīdzējs would stress the frustrations and tensions of the older generation of émigrés which are not always fully understood by their children. L. Mieriņš (England) surveys shows of painting and crafts in Riga during 1976.

In spite of state guidelines that work for the realistic and representational and keep out striking novelty, individual shows of paintings include examples of abstraction, surrealistic effects, and high expressivity while sculpture tends to be traditional. The applied arts, especially ceramics, have at times liberated themselves from the functional and the representational to an astounding degree. R. Ekmanis pays tribute to poet Elza Stērste who died in 1976, citing her long and steady accomplishment and some of the constants in her poetry-- love for nature, subtle and respectful treatment of human relationships, abiding faith in her people. "Dramatic Criticism Then and Now" is a symposium based on a statement by critic K.Strauts, written in the 1930's, about the responsibility of the critic. The commentators, representing various émigré communities, are unanimous in rejecting Strauts' assumption of the critic as a mouthpiece for national or state interests, a view spawned by the authoritarian regime under which Strauts worked. Most of the contributors stress the role of the critic or reviewer as informant of the public. This, along with an emphasis on praxis and a recognition that the present Latvian diaspora has its centers of power too, is based on a realistic appraisal of the possibilities of émigré criticism. Another ongoing debate is touched in the advocacy (by Jānis Tupesis, Wisconsin) of an approach to ethnic survival that is centered around the peculiarly Latvian religion which eschews Christian dogmatism and draws its vitality from folk culture and ethical concern embedded in a strong sense of continuity between natural process and human life. Poetry by Juris Kronbergs and Jānis Rokpelnis illustrates the points made by Saliņš (see above). There is surrealism (a shoulder falling off, a flower with lobster claws) along with humane concern and defiant affirmation. Kronbergs sees a snowstorm of seeds from earth to sky producing an immense green leaf; Rokpelnis speaks of becoming one with the wind for he alone "did not mock that which we do not grasp waking..." Ingrīda Vīksna contributes "Flight" and "The Ides of March" which circle around the treachery of the friend and the sudden intimacy of strangers stranded together in a doorless glass elevator shooting into the sky. There are 5 poems by Juris Zommers, exploring the hidden dimensions of common situations, a short poem by Velta Sniķere, subtitled "Cap Zebib" and describing a scene of sunlit serenity while conjuring that same sense through its language and structure. A fresh impressionistic poem by Alma Bēne and two short sensitive poems by Inese Baļķīte (marking her debut in JG) round out this issue's poetry. The prose contribution, by Latvian SSR writer Z. Skujiņš, deals with an older set of tensions. In the form of an interior monologue, it recounts part of a day briefly before his death--mirroring his aspiration and struggles--of the 19th century educator and author J.Neikens, whose personal tragedy reflects the dilemma of the educated Latvians of his time, torn between a desire to advance in life which was possible anly by alignment with the local erman superiors, and the strong commitment to enlightening the oppressed Latvian peasants.


Dr. Inta Ezergaile

Jaunā Gaita