Jaunā Gaita nr. 98, 1974

JG 98

Aleksandrs Čaks (1902-1950) was the first truly urban-oriented Latvian poet, one who sang of the glory and grubbiness of city streets with a combination of lyricism and street-urchin bravado, expressionistic hardness and lush romanticism. After World War II, Čaks remained in Latvia and wholeheartedly tried to ally himself with the new order, but, unable to bear the petty pressures of Stalinist bureaucrats, died an untimely death. Čaks' work has had greatest impact on Latvian poetry written in exile, especially the "Hell's Kitchen" school of poets which arose in New York during the '50's; in this issue one of its leading representatives, Gunars Saliņ contributes an essay on Čaks, "Endless Mirrors". While focusing on Čaks' unfinished verse play, Matīss, Prince of Drunkards (Matīss, kausu bajārs), Saliņ surveys and analyzes the entire range of Čaks' poetic development, from the late '20's when his verse scandalized reviewers to the final tragic years. Loneliness, suffering, unrequited emotions, longing for something great and unattainable always permeated Čaks' poetry; and, notes Saliņ, even at the height of his popular success in 1939-40, when in Those Touched by Eternity Čaks seemed to have synthesized contradictory aspects within himself and transcended despair by patriotic idealism, his other poems testify to pain and the illusory nature of happiness. Two characters in Matīss function, to some extent, as Čaks' personae: the old puppetmaster whose dolls come to life even as he, driven by his creative demon, finds salvation in death; and Matīss himself, that drunkard of life who abandons dissipation to search for some mysterious, idealized reality. Saliņ also believes it significant that the fifth act, which presumably was to bring reconciliation, remained unwritten; instead, Čaks left his manuscript with Matīss broken and disillusioned.

A haunted, almost surrealistic quality pervades Saliņ' own poem, "In Rīga - the Old City", vivid evocations of a rich past and present are replaced by stony images of horror reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch. Valda Dreimane's series of poems, "Strange Interrelations" probes the intermingling of natural forces and personal insights; the unifying factor is the human mind moving through nature in search of some archetypal source. Aina Zemdega (1972-73 Zinaīda' Lazda Prize laureate) filters memories and personal longing through artifacts that represent another kind of historical past. The poetry section also includes Andrejs Irbe's translations from "three unusual Swedes" - poets who write in Swedish although their native language or native land is different. Ltfi Ozkk (Turkish) and Theodor Kallifatides (Greek) evoke images, themes, situations, and associations that transcend national boundaries and move through endless space and time. Wava Strmer (Swedish, but living in Finland), however, writes poems that are more closely tied to the Finnish scene, be they lyrical in nature or biting social poems.

The prose selections range from realism to fantasy. Richards Rīdzinieks contributes two ironic sketches of migr life in Sweden, interspersing descriptions of petty, ridiculous incidents with insights into the minds of little people. Laima Kalniņa's "To Night" evokes the mystery of nocturnal flights of fancy. Ausma Jaunzeme, in "Fairy Tale", synthesizes old myths and legends (Tristan and Isolde, human sacrifice by fire to pacify vicious gods) and a science fiction world recalling the dehumanization of 1984.

The eastern part of Latvia, Latgale, has always exhibited ethnic and linguistic characteristics distinct from the rest of the country, and therefore required separate historical and linguistic research. In this issue Mikelis Buks (Sweden), a prominent Latgallian scholar, explores the problem of ethnic and political demarcation between ancient Latgallians and Slavs, and reaches some conclusions which, the author himself admits, go contrary to most accepted hypotheses. Buks argues that proof of Latgallian presence can be found as far east as Smolensk, Polotsk, Novgorod, and Pskov, and can be proven by archeological findings as well as linguistic traces. Therefore, the Latgallian-Russian border before the 13th century must have been 50-80 kilometers east of the modern one, and some mingling of peoples must have taken place in that area.

The art section is dominated by black-and-white photography from Soviet Latvia, and Inārs Zvirgzdiņ (also Soviet Latvian) analyzes the distinctive qualities of the artists represented, all of whom have won international prizes. Ilmārs Apkalns is most interested in harmonious unity of rhythm, composition, dynamics; Leons Balodis stands out because of technical virtuosity and striking synthesis of diverse impressions; Jānis Kreicbergs' portraits often acquire symbolic overtones; and Viesturs Vasiļevskis' pictures of industry transcend photographic reporting. Juris Mazutis' ("Journeys - A Diary") meditations on the meaning of fame and recognition are provocative and disturbing.

The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters, the frontispiece by Gvīdo Brūveris (Argentine).

 

I. .-L.


Jaunā Gaita