This film features Lithuania’s Tomas Venclova, one of Europe’s major living poets. His work speaks with a moral depth exceptional in contemporary poetry, addressing the desolate landscape of the aftermath of totalitarianism, as well as the ethical constants that allow for hope and perseverance. His retrospective, The Junction (Bloodaxe Books) (bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/the-junction-906), published in 2008, brings together entirely new translations of later work as well as a selection of poems from his 1997 volume Winter Dialogue. The book’s title and title-poem refers to a geographic junction where the borders of Lithuania, the Russian district of Kaliningrad (formerly East Prussia) and Poland meet.
Venclova was born in 1937 in Klaipeda, Lithuania. After graduating from Vilnius University, he travelled in the Eastern Bloc, where he met Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak and translated their work into Lithuanian. In our ﬁlm, after reading and introducing several poems, he recalls his first meeting with Akhmatova, and how an expert’s endorsement of his translations led to his being allowed to see her on a number of occasions at a time when she was having to discourage visits by young poets seeking her approval.
Venclova took part in the Lithuanian and Soviet dissident movements and was one of the five founding members of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group. His activities led to a ban on publishing, exile and the stripping of his Soviet 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 in Grasmere at Cumbria, UK.
The 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 literatūros 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, May 2017): see bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/in-person-world-poets-dvd-book--1080