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An Interview with Sigitas Parulskis by Klara Barcic

October 16, 2011 by · 1 comment

An interview with Sigitas Parulskis by Klara Barcic

(Vilnius, August 25, 2011)

Photo by Klara

Sigitas Parulskis, a Lithuanian contemporary poet, playwright, essayist, novelist and translator, who has translated into Lithuanian works of A. Chekhov, D. Charms, L. Andreyev, J. Brodskij, O. Mandelshtam, V. Yerofeyev, D. Gorchov, A. Turgenev and S. Shepard among others, was born in 1965 in Obeliai (Lithuania). He majored in Lithuanian Language and Literature at Vilnius University. Parulskis’ works include several books of poetry, two books of essays, two short story collections and four novels. He is also an author of several plays and scripts for theatre.

In 1991, Parulskis won the Zigmas Gėlė Award for the best literary debut of the year. In 1995 his achievement in the book of poetry Of the Dead was recognized by the prestigious Jotwingian Award. His play From the Lives of the Dead received the 1996 Kristoforas Award for the best young artist’s theatre play debut. The novel Three Seconds of Heaven (Trys sekundės dangaus) was recognized as the best book of the year and was awarded the Lithuanian Writer’s Union Prize. In 2004, Parulskis received the National Prize in literature. He has won the following international awards: Der Stiftung Preussische Seehandlung – 2009; LCB (Berlin), Bank Austria Literaris – 2009, Kulturkontakt, Vienna; H.C. Artmann stipendium – 2010, Salzburg.

Works by Parulskis have been translated into Latvian, Finnish, Italian, Polish, Czech, French, German, Greek, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, English, Slovenian and other languages.

He lives in Vilnius.

Sigitas, when did you start writing and how did the idea of writing come into your life? Did you start as a playwright or as a poet?

I started as a poet because of love. I was fourteen, I fell in love and started to write poetry. At the beginning there were just feelings, images, metaphors and rhymes. I didn’t know anything about art, I just started in a “savage” way. Later on I studied Lithuanian Language and Literature at the Vilnius University. Step by step I started to believe that I could write, that I could go on writing even if I didn’t know why I should become a writer. My first love is dead now, so I have no reason to write poetry.

Maybe you can fall in love again?

After that I used to fall in love again and again. I’ve written six books of poetry. I don’t write poetry very often now. Poetry is a special thing. Brodskij said that a novel could be just OK, interesting, but a poetry cannot be just OK, it has to be good. Because poetry is the language of God. I agree with Brodskij. There is no point in writing just a poem. A very good poem comes like a wind from nowhere and it goes to somewhere. If you cannot feel that wind, if you wait for the wind, you can really never catch it. So, you can choose: either you write mediocre poetry or you don’t write it at all. Poetry doesn’t come from outside, it always comes from inside; it is a part of your inner world. Sappho said: What are words? They are just here in my mouth. Life is poetry. On the other hand, William Faulkner said that life is only preparation for lying in the grave for a long long time. After seven years of poetic silence I published a book of poems Pagyvenusio vyro pagundos (Temptations of a mature man) two years ago (in 2009). It has been translated into German but not published yet.

But Faulkner’s thought is rather pessimistic, isn’t it?

I am pessimistic, I am not optimistic. That’s why poetry for me is also a kind of preparation. Poetry is very different: sometimes you confine the whole world in a short poem, like maybe in three lines you put life, death, hell, sky, whatsoever. But what is poetry exactly? I don’t know.

What did your writing give to you in terms of life experience, besides the fact that you are now a famous Lithuanian writer?

Everything. My life and my writing are the same. For example, I can sit here but at the same time, I can think about my experience and my experience, even if transformed, is my writing. Sometimes I do writing and sometimes the writing does me. I don’t talk or think of my books because I don’t read my books. I can sit here and catch a story or a structure and a character of a story, which is the most important moment of writing. As you see, writing is not only a technical problem, it is much more.

Did your writing help you to overcome difficult periods of your life or to look at these periods from a different perspective?

I don’t know. It depends. Just a short story to show how writing can help someone. When my father died (he died suddenly of a heart attack when he was 67), I was in a very bad mood and I started to write. I used to write for a couple of hours and it helped me. I felt relieved. It was the time when I wrote my first book of essays The Naked Clothes (Nuogi drabužiai), which became a 2002 bestseller. While I was watching myself I talked about death in the essay called The Northern Chronicle. Sometimes writing saves your life and your soul. I met some people who told me that they had particularly appreciated this essay, because they used to read it after they had lost someone in a family. They claimed it had been a therapy to them.

Writing is amazing because you are the God of your own universe, you are creator and creation at the same time. It’s wonderful. Usually this enthusiasm is typical at the beginning of writing, because later you might have some problems in finishing it. At this point you are powerless and you feel you are a loser but God can’t be a loser. Hence the difference between God and a writer: a writer starts off as God and finishes as a loser. That’s why we have a lot of bad books, because God transforms us into losers. It’s a pity but it’s human.

Some people say that writing is the mirror of a poet’s soul. If so, do you see the same person in this mirror, in other words, do you see yourself in your writings?

No. That’s very simple. Here is Sigitas Parulskis as a person, there is Sigitas Parulskis as a writer. Between these two there is always a gap. There is always something happening in this gap that makes the difference. For me it is very important to find something interesting in this gap, something unusual. It would be very boring for me to find my own reflection in this mirror. When you start to write a novel you have a structure and an idea, but then suddenly something unusual happens that makes your creativity challenging. The writing isn’t the mirror of a poet’s soul.

Photo from Klara’s personal album

So it is not like a self-portrait?

I can try to describe myself but in the process of writing I can find something different from myself.

Which of your books do you think is the best one and why?

All of my books are the best. I don’t know. I should create some rules and criteria to value why one book is better than another. They are all good but at the same time they are all different. I would say that my best book is in the future.

Your country is beautiful. You have everything: splendid nature, silent lakes, romantic woods, lonely beaches, rich history. Do you think Lithuania is fertile soil for writing poetry? In other words, would you agree with Adam Mickiewicz’s initial verses of Pan Tadeusz:

“Lithuania, my country! You are as good health:
How much one should prize you, he only can tell
Who has lost you. Your beauty and splendour I view
And describe here today, for I long after you.”
(translation from Polish by Marcel Weyland)

Well, you know, he was romantic. To speak to Lithuania in this way is a little bit abstract. For me Lithuania is my mother, my children, my dog. Lithuania should be a home even though it is sometimes unconfortable to live in. Landscape? You cannot eat landscape. You have to earn money for it is a very expensive country. I could leave it and go abroad for a while, but Lithuania remains my home for ever and I think it is good this way.

What does the reestablishment of the Lithuanian independence mean to you as a Lithuanian writer and poet?

That’s very simple. I can answer very briefly. Without freedom, without independence I couldn’t be a writer. I couldn’t write what I wanted. The freedom gives me the freedom to write everything I think and that is wonderful. In the past the free language was forbidden, because there were precise rules to be respected. People were obliged to write in symbols and metaphors. But now we are very happy because we can write the way we want to.

What are your expectations for the future?

To die easily without pain. The worst thing would be to take a long time to die. My father was lucky.

Well, but your father died rather young, so I wouldn’t say that he was that lucky.

Yes, but when you are dead you are dead. It doesn’t matter at what age you died.

Oh, I wouldn’t agree with this.

I don’t think about the future because it is a waste of time. Now my future is very concrete. I have to finish my novel. I have been going through hell for the past four – five months because I haven’t a clue how to finish it.

According to what you told me before, do you consider yourself a loser right now?

Yes, but I hope to be God again. I have all the ingredients for the novel. It is a problem starting again, because I am stuck at the moment. My publisher is not very happy with this but what can I do???

Is it going to be a long novel?

About 200 pages. Is that long?

The best size. Very long novels are not always easy to read, are they?

I’ve been reading again Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann. It is difficult and very tough. I read it 25 years ago and I liked it but now I find it different. Times change! A writer has a difficult task to find something interesting, something that a camera cannot record and the media cannot report. But it is rather complicated because a camera is a powerful instrument and people are lazy and they don’t read books.

I am happy you were with me this afternoon. Thank you very much for your time.

You are welcome!

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