The city of Vilnius—the contemporary capital of Lithuania—has been the subject of an array of poetic imagination, ranging from Polish romanticism and Russian symbolism of the 19th century to Yiddish (and Hebrew) modernism and (Soviet) Lithuanian socialist realism of the 20th century. The stylistic, artistic and ideological variety of Vilnius poetry can only be matched by its linguistic diversity. In addition, because of dramatic political, social, and demographic changes—almost 90% of the city’s population was either killed or displaced during the WWII decade—the city-inspired narratives have produced a particular genre of urban poetics based on biographical accounts of loss, exile and, occasionally, return and rediscovery. This lecture is about the polyglot map of the wartime city in poetry. In particular, it will focus on four poets—Johannes Bobrowski, Abraham Sutzkever, Czeslaw Milosz, and Abba Kovner—writing in German, Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew, respectively. For all of these poets, spatial vocabularies, linguistic renditions, historical positions and lyrical wanderings through the city have been shaped by their distinct experiences of war and personal loss in post-war Europe. The talk will parallel three poetic—German, Jewish, and Polish—reincarnations of Vilnius, simultaneous with the absence of war memory (and literature) in the actual Soviet and Lithuanian city.
Laimonas Briedis is a native of Vilnius. He studied geography, history, and literature at Vilnius University, UCLA, and University of British Columbia. In 2005, he received a Ph.D. in human geography at University of British Columbia with a dissertation on the historical and cultural imagination of Vilnius. From 2006-08, he conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Toronto’s Department of History. A senior research fellow at A. J. Greimas Center for Semiotics and Literary Theory at Vilnius University, he is currently is working on the creation of a literary atlas of Vilnius and writing a book on the poetic geography of Vilnius. Briedis has authored numerous articles and two acclaimed books: Vilnius: City of Strangers (Central European University Press, 2010) and Vilnius: savas ir svetimas (Baltos lankos, 2011, in Lithuanian). He regularly appears as a guest speaker on Lithuanian National Radio and has given talks at the Jerusalem, London, Vilnius, and Warsaw Book Fairs and the Vancouver Jewish Book Festival; he has also lectured at Yale University, YIVO, Bard College, Pasadena Art Center, University of Washington, and the Woodrow Wilson Center. He lives part time in Vancouver, Canada.
Sponsors: CREES, Copernicus Program in Polish Studies, Frankel Center for Judaic Studies