On writing: Salute Continue reading “Gabrielė Labanauskaitė Diena: Inspiration and Influences”
The Lithuanian poet, Salomeja Neris was born in Kirsai in 1904. She graduated from the University of Lithuania, where she studied Lithuanian and German Language and Literature which she went on to teach.
Neris published her first collection of poems in 1927 titled, ‘In The Early Morning’. In her early publications, she contributed to nationalist and Roman Catholic journals. In 1931, she moved to Kaunas where she edited Lithuanian folk tales and continued to teach. In her second collection of poetry, The Footprints in the Sand, there is evidence of the onset of a profound spiritual crisis. From this time, she became more closely identified with pro-communist literary circles, for example a promise of her commitment to work for communism was published, however it was not written by her but by the chief ideological editor of Trecias Frontas.
Neris was more interested in writing poetry then in declarations, communist politics and theories about art. However, controversy continued to surround her involvement with the Soviet occupation and in particular the poem she wrote in honour of Stalin. She spent WWII in the Russian SFSR (Soviet Federative Socialist Republic). However, near its end she returned to Kaunas but subsequently fell ill and died of liver cancer in a Moscow hospital. Her last poems show a deep attachment and affection for Lithuania.
Gabrielė Labanauskaitė Diena, born in 1980, is a poet, playwright, events organizer and performer. Since 2004, instead of printed books since Gabriele has released audiovisual poetry CDs and DVDs in conjunction with Avaspo, her own established poetry project.
Gabriele teaches Drama Studies at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy and leads creative writing workshops.
2016: we are in the Lithuanian town of Kaunas inside the Salomeja Neris Memorial Museum. Gabrielė Labanauskaitė Diena’s new mini-play takes a playful look at what the politically controversial poet Salomeja Neris would think of the museum that celebrates her legacy.
[image: the interior of the museum at Kaunas]
Gabi’s play is a thought-provoking, tongue-in-cheek sketch of a ghostly encounter between the poet and the objects of her past. It will be adapted for the stage by GoodDog Theatre Co. in collaboration with their dramaturge, Jeni Cumming and curated by the Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation (London).
The play has been translated by Julija Gulbinovic.
Salomeja Neris lived here from 1938 to 1941 with her husband, Bernardas Bucas and her young son Saulius, born in 1939. Designed by Bucas, a Lithuanian painter, sculptor and architect, this wood-framed country house had an original architecture with oak doors, pine wood flooring, a terrace and wooden balconies, which afforded stunning views of surrounding woodland and nature, inspirational for the poet. The house was built for their way of living, with a window in the Neris’ study which enabled her husband to see her desk from the passageway and whether she was working or resting and a window through which she could observe her husband in his workspace, even while in the kitchen.
Whilst living there, Neris published her best book of poems, I Will Turn into the Absinthe Flower, in 1938, for which she received the prestigious State Literary Award and as a socialist and key cultural activist in the period 1939-1940s, member of the People’s Seimas (Parliament) and elected member of the delegation sent to the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union to appeal for adoption of occupied Lithuania into the Soviet Union, she also completed a poetry commission glorifying Stalin, which was awarded the Stalin prize posthumously in 1947, amongst other pro-soviet poems.
Salomeja Neris embodied the contradictions of the time as a socialist woman. In addition to her poetry writing and political activism, she was a scholar of the German language and Lithuanian literature, who worked as a teacher at the third gymnasium in the city of Kaunas, eight kilometres away, to support her family, as well as being a wife and mother with domestic responsibilities in the home, including: child rearing, shopping, cooking and gardening.
With the outbreak of World War Two and the German occupation, Neris was evacuated with her son to Moscow in 1941, where she spent duration of the war. After returning to the house at Kaunas in 1944, she became seriously ill and died of liver cancer at a hospital in Moscow on July 7th, 1945. Salomeja Neris was buried in a square of the museum of Culture in Kaunas and later in the cemetery at Petrasiunai. Her last poems show deep affection for Lithuania.
In 1962, a memorial museum was established to commemorate Salomeja Neris’ and Bernardas Bucas’ work, housing six thousand exhibits. This was reconstructed in 2004 with memorial rooms, the family living room , bedroom and work spaces. Bucas’ former summer workshop, a spacious hall, displays Salomeja Neris’ poetry and way of life.
Lithuanian playwright, Gabriele Diena has written a new work set in the memorial house. ‘Salute’ has been adapted for performance by GoodDog Theatre Company.