The last week in July 2022, on a breezy Napa Valley College campus not far from the shores of San Pablo Bay, I became a student in poetry in translation at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Our workshop leader, Forrest Gander, a Pulitzer Prize winner and celebrated translator himself, led a small group looking to broaden the idea of poetry community. We had each chosen a poet to translate into English from languages including: Spanish; German; Russian; Japanese: Chinese; Yiddish; and in my case, Lithuanian. The usual heat of Napa in summer was unusually temperate, helping us to keep our brains chill as they strained, like computers with insufficient memory, to solve the intricate patterns of language.
The breezy enthusiasm of our workshop leader gave me lift and made me feel supported in a daunting task. I had just started to learn “lietuva kalba”, the Lithuanian language, a few months before the conference began. I had chosen a contemporary Lithuanian poet, Alma Riebzdaite, who to my knowledge is little known to the English-speaking world. She has published one book of poetry in Lithuanian, just as I have published one book of poetry in English. I stumbled across Riebzdaite’s work while, trying to learn the language, I browsed Lithuanian literature online.
Finding a journal called Šiaurės Atėnai (Athens of the North), I selected the tab for “poezija” and found a recently published group of poems by Riebzdaite. Scrolling through the poems, I saw a reference to atominė bomba (atom bombs) and immediately knew these were the poems I wanted to translate. The poems, it seemed to me, found voice in the recent invasion by Russia of Ukraine, a near neighbor of Lithuania. The two nations share a history of Russian aggression and occupation.
Alma Riebždaitė grew up in a small village in Lithuania near meadows, forests, marshes, and the Baltic Sea. She studied Lithuanian philology and stage directing at Klaipėda University. She has worked at various jobs in her life. In addition to poems, she writes essays, short stories, and travel impressions. Her work has been published in many art and culture publications in Lithuania. She has published one book of poetry Beribė (Limitless). She is also a photographer and artist who looks for points of contact between different types of art, and who organizes art exhibitions. She gets her inspiration from nature in her search for existential meaning.
Patricija Gudeikaitė (b. 1998) is a literary event organizer and young poet. She graduated from the Kaunas Santaros Gymnasium and later earned a professional degree as a florist. Her poetry, bearing motifs of alienation, fringe states, and temporality, deals with the themes of mental health, sociopolitics, duality, and ambivalence. Gudeikaitė believes that all art is autobiographical and describes her own poetry as confessional.