Jaunā Gaita nr. 143, (2) 1983

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JG 143

The 1982 Latvian Youth Song Festival was held in Cleveland in October. This event is modelled on the traditional Latvian Song Festivals, with mass choir concerts, folk dance presentations, and displays of art and crafts, but with the differences that all of the participants are young in age, and, musically at least, the emphasis is on presenting new works rather than traditional repertoire.

In this issue we focus on the Cleveland Festival's literary presentation, where eight young authors made their appearance. This event was organized by Sarma Muižniece, a young writer and member of a well-known Latvian literary family. She and Sniedze Ruņģe are the only ones in the group of authors at Cleveland to have had their work published in book form. Ruņģe, too, has a strong literary background, her father being the author of several novels, and, most recently, a treatise on the philosophical and practical problems of being a Latvian in exile.

Muižniece opened her reading with a poem uncharacteristic of her, entitled "Who deserves bread? Who deserves sausages?". It is full of foreboding - a complacent society is overshadowed by a storm bird and fingers turn into "ten trembling knives" - an outsider's poem. This impression is countered by "Giving ": "give and keep on giving until the taker tells you, stop." On Latvian women, she writes: "their mouths and tongues are hot, they are strong, but just not in the mood, "and referring to the young Latvian men she knows, she reminds them of a duty to tradition that should cut through dissipation.

Through Anita Dzirne we experience the strength as well as the pain of being a woman: "... mother, from whom I suckled years, why search for grey in my hair, why look for sorrow in my face? I learned how to hide these all from you." Pain and endurance are revealed again in the poem "Social Realism": "the artist's brush freezes to her icy cheek and must be torn away. So came the redness to her cheeks. She stands waiting for the next wrenching stroke to fall." Dzirne also observes: "... the artist sees too much... he begins to shape us... you are a rhinoceros and I am impaled upon the point of your intellect." Of the eight authors, Dzirne is the most feminist.

Zinta Aistara's short story "The Investor" examines the work ethic and capitalist philosophy: "I do not want to be a parasite; I want to be my own master which is why I am working as a garbageman... the achievements of my brain I keep for myself." The main character, a garbageman, artist and designer, professes to want to make life more attractive and efficient for others as well as himself, but in reality exploits others in his climb to success. Aistara has a good eye for detail, excellent command of the language, and deserves every encouragement in an area of Latvian émigré literature that has few young practitioners.

Anda Avena's poetry combines light lyricism coupled with reminders of a more immediate dimension: "Dreams... night enters on white shoes - squeak of rubber soles." Avena also conveys a delicate sensualism: "I unravel your spirit with my lips, my tongue has licked it from your shoulder. All the fairy tales are hidden away and your saliva has the taste of strawberries."

Māra Galēna dares to play with language with the apparent spontaneity of a child. She is able to use extended alliteration and assonance, finding the internal rhythms of words, which she arranges in occasional symmetry within a free verse form. Her poetry is musical and slightly dramatic in its initial impression. She writes: "I am the sound in a violin. I shall give myself to whoever takes up the violin because the sound of the violin is my sound."

Māra Gulēna is the youngest of this group. She has a well developed sense of simplicity: "In my kitchen, wonders like a chain follow fast, one upon the other. Potatoes brown in the pan and cucumbers pickle in their jars...", a warm domestic revelation. Elsewhere, as a traveller looking at the world far below, "Twin loves - the lake shines as if full of stars, and the heavens - like shimmering water. Sunset, sunrise, heads or tails."

Jānis Imants Sedliņš, the only male author, has a whimsical sense of humor: "...an elegant elephant stepped on my head and from that day my head has been flat. Imagine, the comparison of a head to all the world! Socrates could never have done such a thing. In his day the earth was flat." Sedliņš is a city poet writing about its bars, subways, drug addicts and police, who announce that "poetry is illegal in this state!" An able jazz improviser, Sedliņš concluded his offering with a meditative piece of piano music.

Rather than read from her work, Sniedze Ruņģe took the opportunity to give a public farewell to her youth, "Where are the others in my age group... statistics... you could frighten little children with them... if you don't behave... the statistics will get you... the first denizens of paradise are disappearing... life has need of the existence of these nations... we must apply the wisdom of our folksongs to our daily lives. I believe in spells... your most beautiful ornament is your language. We need you... so as to be able to continue writing."

Also in this issue: interviews with Latvian poet Māris Čaklais and Australian Latvian émigré playwright Uldis Siliņš, together with the 1st act from "Kade pārnāksi, bāleliņ" (When Will You Come Home Again, Brother?); articles by J. Kalmīte and A. Padegs on the artist Kārlis Padegs (1911 - 1940) and an article by Rita Melnace about the émigré playwright M. Zīverts' 80th birthday commemoration in Rīga.

This issue also includes all of our regular columns.

The cover is by Ilgvars Šteins.


Jānis Kļaviņš

Jaunā Gaita