Druskininkai Poetic Fall history

The international annual literary festival Druskininkai Poetic Fall started in 1990 and at the beginning was organized by the Lithuanian P.E.N. Centre. The event for the first ten years took place in the first half of October in Druskininkai, the resort town in the south of Lithuania and Vilnius. During those years, the event has become popular in Lithuania and abroad, and has become a favorite of both writers and the public. Starting with the year 2001 the festival is organized by public organization Druskininkai Poetic Fall with Lithuanian P.E.N. and Centre "Dainava" as co-organizers.

What was the beginning? Let's try to describe it in poetic terms: the festival was created out of the wonders of the autumnal landscape, the spirit of Lithuanian painter and composer Čiurlionis, or the rivers of tea we drank together with poets Vytautas Bložė, Nijolė Miliauskaitė, Sigitas Geda, and other poets who happened to come to Druskininkai from time to time – Almis Grybauskas, Donaldas Kajokas, Gintaras Patackas, Edmundas Kelmickas, the late Vaidotas Daunys – fiercely discussing poetry and the life, our books and publications, world literature. But it would be most accurate to say that it began from the genuine intensity of our literary life, our books and their contexts, talked about, argued, evaluated.

I have to confess that the Druskininkai Poetic Fall also was given stimulus by Young Music, the music festival of younger composers and performers that had taken place in May in Druskininkai since 1986. The poets of Druskininkai were among the most active Young Music participants. Young Music was not just a series of concerts. There were also theoretical discussions, various happenings. Because during the Soviet years free and open discussions about art, and especially its contexts, were not allowed, the principal discussions during those early days took place at my home, while the music, most often vocal, rang out from the flat roof of my house. Young Music from the very beginning became one of the hearths of the thinking that created Sąjūdis. Prof. Vytautas Landsbergis and other future political figures participated as well, so pronouncements were often quite open. We wanted to have a similar opportunity for poets.

istorija 02I am often asked if the Druskininkai Poetic Fall began as an alternative to the Poetry Spring, the other well-known Lithuanian poetry festival. Most probably, in the surest sense, it did. However, there has never been any tension between these two events. The Poetry Spring organized by the Lithuanian Writers' Union was more official, more oriented to the public, the Druskininkai Poetic Fall organized by the Lithuanian P.E.N. was oriented more to writers, critics, and publishers, though the wider public was also warmly welcomed. While organizing the first Autumn the Lithuanian Writers' Union actively provided assistance, and its Chairman, Valentinas Sventickas, a stalwart

Fall participant, himself has moderated more than one evening of poetry – and this is without mentioning all those authors who have actively participated in both events. So the alternative was creative, not confrontational. In addition, the Druskininkai Poetic Fall never excluded prose, though it was talked about fromtime to time only in less formal discussions. On the other hand with prose firmly in mind, the festival was named the Poetic Fall and not the Poetry Autumn.

The principal values of the Druskininkai Poetic Fall were the free association of writers from various countries, democracy, open discussions seeking to prevent thoughts from turning to mush but also aspiring to prevent anyone from offending or being offended, poetry readings were serious and playful, academic as well as bohemian, various competitions in which we rejoiced of the victories of our colleagues but did not feel disheartened for ourselves because we understood that poetry cannot be objectively evaluated, and synthesis of arts. It seems to me that we succeeded in making these goals real. If during the first years of the Druskininkai Poetic Fall conference papers were read aloud and after each only silence dominated, more recent discussions after each presented paper in fact had to be cut short. The themes of those conferences – "Language and Time," "Text and Contexts," "Books of the Year and the Literary Process," "Intellectualism in Literature," "An Image in Poetry," "The Poetry and Music," – tried not only to provoke discussion about the actualities and tendencies of life and literature, about books that appeared during the course of the year, but also encouraged participants to look at literature from the perspectives of other forms of art. Discussion during the first four Falls took place in town council's assembly room, poetry evenings – in the various public rooms of the health resorts, and nightly readings – in coffee houses. The first Fall took place in newly-independent Lithuania, after local and regional elections, and the new government kindly allowed the poets to use its offices. But the poets felt uncomfortable in those official surroundings, whose walls were saturated with the town council's various discussions, so from 1994 the Druskininkai Poetic Fall moved to the Druskininkai Cultural Center, the former movie theater ''Aidas,'' in whose first floor lobby it was quite pleasant to talk and hold poetry evenings, and in its coffee house, the nightly readings. But space there was limited, especially in the coffee house, where there was not enough room for a pin to drop during the nightly readings. 50 in 1997 the festival moved once more, to "Dainava," the training and rehabilitation center for national, regional, and local government employees. It had been the sanatorium where writers of older generations had liked to rest and write and whose new director, Zenonas Streikus volunteered to revive old traditions. After moving, the quality of events and of the conditions of the poet's lives during the festival improved substantially. The popularity of the Druskininkai Poetic Fall also grew, the number of participants began to exceed the possibilities of the festival's organizers, and the budget moved into deficit. During those years the traditional Fall program took shape, varying according to the theme of each event. The event usually begins with a theoretical conference on theory. Two poetry evenings take place, during which read guests who have come Ionger distances, those who come infrequently, and those of our poets who had gained some recognition during the course of the year. During the final poetry evening the Jotvingiai Prize is awarded for the best poetry book of the year, and the DPF prize for debut, winners of anonymous competition are anounced, and other awards are given. Two night readings have also become traditional. The first night is dedicated to young poets and the second one to light-hearted competitions and bohemian poetry. On Saturday afternoon, publishers present newly-published books during a mini-book fair. The real inspiration of the first Fall is also commemorated. It was moderated by Kęstutis Nastopka and Bronys Savukynas, reading poets were: V.P. Bložė, S. Geda, the late Leonas Lėtas from USA, M. Martinatis, and in place of J. Juškaitis, J. Vaičiūnaitė, and T. Venclova, who were unable to participate, S. Parulskis, N. Miliauskaitė, and R. Rastauskas read their poems. According to the original plan, it was to be an evening to recognize the poets who had shaken up our literary life in 1971-72, a uniquereappraisal of what had been our values.

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The Fall seeks as well to encourage association with other forms of art. Everybody remember the opening of a show in the Mažoji Gallery of portraits of poets painted by Druskininkai artists, accompanied by sensitive self-expressions by the poets themselves in 1993; an afternoon during which poets painted pictures accompanied by the voice of Ezra Pound reading the "Cantos" in 1994; the opening of an exhibition of photographs titled "Vita Brevis" by the festival's chronicler Džoja Barysaitė, accompanied by a poetry readings "Ars longa" in 1996; wonderful exhibits of painting and graphic arts untitled "Poets-painters, painters-poets" in the Mažoji Gallery, accompanied by readings of poems by all participants in the Čiurlionis Museum – both unforgettably led by Chicagoan Kornelijus Jazbutis, who at the beginning explained that the Jotvingians are winged knights ("jot" from "joti", the Lithuanian word for "to ride", "ving" – "sparnas" – from the English word ''wing'') in 1997; and a concert by composers who wrote poems and poetry read beneath a cupola of water's health resort in 1998. There have also been successful events in the style of happenings. I recall the afternoon of socialistic realism poetry ''Nostalgia'' in 1990, on the pedestal of the statue of Lenin just after it had been removed to a warehouse; a viewing of films by young filmmakers in 1992, which was organized by Vytautas V. Landsbergis; morning of heroic poetry on the Liskiava castle-mound in 1994, during which poems read both seriously and nonseriously surprisingly conjoined with one another; the action of the poets' group Įžanga near the Čiurlionis

Memorial, when those young poets wrote their lines on the sidewalks in 1995; and the various performances and happenings in 1998.

istorija 04The principal prize of the Druskininkai Poetic Fall is the Jotvingiai Prize which Sigitas Geda established in 1985. It is given for the best book or publication during the year by a committee comprised of four Jotvingiai Prize and two Young Jotvingis prize winners and it is awarded by the Druskininkai Town Council and, since 1998, also supported by the Ministry of Culture of Lithuania. In Soviet days the 10 ruble prize, against the backdrop of the awards given in the USSR, was a pleasant sign of recognition to those who could not even dream of favors from Soviet authorities. When the Poetic Fall festivals began Geda agreed to link his prize to this event. The first winner of the Fall prize was Henrikas Čigriejus, a wonderful poet who had kept himself on the sidelines during Soviet rule and who also had never glorified its attributes.
The Druskininkai Poetic Fall is an international event to which guests from other countries are invited as well as our émigré poets and critics (in various years they included Leonas Lėtas, Rimvydas Šilbajoris, Titas Antanaitis, Aldona Veščiūnaitė, Vitalija Bogutaitė, Kęstutis Keblys, Kornelijus Jazbutis, Laima Sruogis, and Tomas Venclova). Among poets writing in other languages who visited us in 1990 was Norwegian Od Abrahamsen, whose book was translated and introduced by Alma Ločerytė-Dales; in 1991 – German poets Heinz Czechowski and Gerald Zschorsch, Latvians Knuts Skujenieks, Peters Bruvers and Inese Zandere, Pole Meczislaw Jackiewicz, Ukrainian Anatolij Sirik; in 1993 – Latvians Uldis Berzins, Knuts Skujenieks, Peters Cedrins, Peters Bruvers; in 1994 – Latvians Margeris Majevskis, Peters Bruvers, Ieva Rupenheite; in 1995 - Latvians Leons Briedis, Marija Briede, Linards Zolnierovics, Edvins Raups, Poles: Marcin Niemojewski and Marcin

Wieczorek, Czech Tomaš Hoskovec; in 1996 – Poles: Marcin Niemojewski, Marcin Sendecki, Marcin Wieczorek, Leszek Engelking, Mexican Gerardo Beltran, and William Levy from the Netherlands; in 1998 – Richard Caddel from England, Mexican Gerardo Beltran, Poles: Leszek Engelking, Jagoda Rogoza, Zbigniew Dominiak, Belorusians: Ales Turovic and Dmitrij Visnev, Danes: Janus Kodal and Nikolai Stochholm, Kerry Shawn Keys from the USA, Latgalian Oskars Seikts, and Czech Vaclaw Burian.

istorija 05The Fall is becoming famous for its various competitions. The very first thematic competition was won by the late Vaidotas Daunys, for his text "Lonesome Dante." Competitions of one anonymous poem have been held since 1993. Selection jury members who have participated consistently include Galina Baužytė-Čepinskienė, Janina Riškute, Bronys Savukynas, and Marijus Šidlauskas-Jonaitis. They have been assisted by Aurelijus Katkevičius, Virginijus Gasiliūnas, Aigimantas Baltakis, Kęstutis Navakas, Vygandas Šiukščius, Rolandas Rastauskas, Rimvydas Šilbajoris, Titas Antanaitis, Kęstutis Keblys, Juozas Aputis, Jolanta Zabarskaitė, Sigitas Parulskis, and others.

The Poetical Autumn of Druskininkai has never been overly formalized but it has had an organizing committee. The first was comprised of Vytautas P. Bložė, Sigitas Geda, Almis Grybauskas, Donaldas Kajokas, Nijolė Miliauskaitė, and Kornelijus Platelis. Other poets also helped to organize some other festivals: Liudvikas Jakimavičius, Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Arnas Ališauskas, and several more. Druskininkai artists have been especially helpful: Andrius Mosiejus has been the designer for all of the Falls and an emblem of his design has decorated the event since 1994. Others including the Director of the Druskininkai Cultural Center, composer Kęstutis Bielukas; photographer and artist Gintaras Žilys; and, of course, psychologist Zenonas Streikus, who served as chairman of the town council during the Festival's early years and who Iater became director of the "Dainava" Center. Today, he and his employees not only prepare the entire technical side of the festival but they also help to find supporters and make interesting suggestions sonsideringt content. Since 1997 in addition to myself as chairman, the organizing committee including Zenonas Streikus (co-chairman), Andrius Mosiejus (treasurer), Kęstutis Bieliukas, Gintaras Bleizgys, Vytautas P. Bložė, Sigitas Geda, Antanas A. Jonynas, laurynas Katkus, Bronys Savukynas, Ričardas Šileika, and Alvydas Šlepikas.

These are some fragments and facts of the history and activities of the Druskininkai Poetic Fall. Not all of the events have been equally successful – the saddest of them perhaps the one in 1992, under Russian blockade, and the one which might be deemed the best, each participant has his or her own idea.

Kornelijus Platelis
Translated by Jonas Zdanys

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