Lithuania’s Tomas Venclova is one of Europe’s greatest living poets. His work speaks with a moral depth exceptional in contemporary poetry. Venclova’s poetry addresses the desolate landscape of the aftermath of totalitarianism, as well as the ethical constants that allow for hope and perseverance. The Junction brings together entirely new translations of his most recent work as well as a selection of poems from his 1997 volume Winter Dialogue.
‘Every major poet has an idiosyncratic inner landscape against which his voice sounds in his mind… [Venclova’s] landscape is that of the Baltic in winter, a monochromatic setting dominated by damp and cloudy hues – the light of the skies condensed into darkness.’ – Joseph Brodsky
‘Venclova is a lyric poet of magisterial allure, committed to philosophical meditations…Part exile, part seer, he is the artist as witness and a living example of a literary elite that evolved in crisis yet remained true to the dictates of art.’ – Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
‘If in Venclova’s volume, Winter Dialogue, there is a concern with endurance, and a search for absolutes in the face of adverse conditions both in Lithuania and in exile, in his most recent work, The Junction, we find the figure of a poet returning from exile, surveying what has occurred, what buildings still stand, and the fates of those one loved. And while these poems are filled with melancholy at the passage of time, there is also a sense of affirmation. For despite everything, each element that is salvaged constitutes a form of victory – a testimony to all that can be, and is, preserved from the vicissitudes of History.’ – Ellen Hinsey
Tomas Venclova’s dissident activities during the Soviet era led to a ban on publishing, exile and the stripping of his citizenship in 1977. From 1985 he taught Slavic languages and literature at Yale University in the US, where Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed him before a class in 2008, followed by a second filming session the following year after his reading for the Wordsworth Trust at Grasmere in Cumbria. The film’s opening footage by Neil Astley shows the setting of the first poem, ‘Užupis’, a district of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius popular with artists which declared itself an independent republic in 1997. His closing footage is from the Venclovas’ House-Museum in Vilnius, the family home from 1945 to 1971, where Tomas grew up (his father Antonas Venclova was a well-known writer during the Soviet period).
The poems are all introduced in the film by Tomas Venclova in English and then read in Lithuanian, with subtitled English translations from The Junction by Ellen Hinsey [EH] and Diana Senechal [DS]: ‘Užupis’ (‘Užupis’ [EH]), ‘Už pusmyli…’ (‘Half a mile away…’ [DS]), ‘Ugnyje’ (‘In the Fire’ [DS]), ‘Naujosios Anglijos Uoste’ (‘New England Harbour’ [EH]), ‘Emigrante’ (‘The Émigré’ [EH]), ‘Sankirta’ (‘The Junction’ [EH]). The Lithuanian texts are from Visi eilėraščiai: 1956-2010 (Lietuvių literaturos ir tautosakos institutas, Vilnius, 2010). He talks about his meetings with Akhmatova at the end (in English).
This ﬁlm is one of 60 videos included in the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed and edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2017).