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Eugenijus Ališanka, translated from the Lithuanian by H. L. Hix, from unwritten histories, Host Publications, $15.00 (paper)
Rather than bombarding readers with passages of excavation or revelation as its title implies it might, from unwritten histories gives voice to identity and experience. This tension is conveyed in poems that withhold certainty in regard to both their content—“most of the time I mistake someone for someone else,” “probably it happened but who could now say”—and their form, which snubs conventional punctuation and capitalization. You won’t find a single period, much less a dash, in this whole book, but you will find a white boar, Motor Trend magazine, cupolas, saints, and a host of quotations from both famous and lesser-known European writers. These generous-spirited poems are indebted to Tomaž Šalamun and to poets of the New York School, but the themes are alchemized to an Ališanka-specific context as the speaker endeavors to define a complex Lithuanian-European identity, a contemporary masculine identity, and a literary identity. The inclusion of the Lithuanian text alongside each translation underscores a sense of delighting in the unknown, since every turn will bring most of us face-to-face with the impenetrable originals. Some might therefore feel excluded from this collection, which also tends to appreciate men for their minds and women for their bodies, but by the time we read “answers are questions / there shouldn’t be too many questions / therefore don’t try to figure out everything at once,” there is ample reason to be glad that, just as he’s made us privy to “unsent” and “unwritten” letters, Ališanka hasn’t heeded his own advice.
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