Mintis ir uola / Thought and Rock
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© DANimations 2002
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here this evening, participating in the Australian launch of Lidija Šimkutė’s new book, Thought and Rock.
I spoke of Lithuania as a far-off land. That may be true, geographically speaking; and the unhappy history of Lithuania in the twentieth century, when it was for a long while swallowed into the Soviet Union, though it has no ancestral links with Russia and Russian Orthodoxy. . . Lithuania was once a great power in northern Europe, that its strongest cultural links have been with Catholic Poland rather than with Russia, that among the great poets of the twentieth century two have had Lithuanian roots: Czeslaw Milosz and Tomas Venclova. The former wrote in Polish, whereas the latter, presently residing in United States, writes in Lithuanian.
. . . . .. When we speak of Australia as a multicultural country, we usually mean that, though the dominant culture is Anglo, or nowadays Anglo-American, other cultures survive beside the dominant one, and are benignly allowed to survive, even encouraged to stay alive . . . . . . . . . . .within its immigrant communities there have been individuals who have chosen to keep the intellectual culture of the old country alive in the new country. . . . . . It is among such people that I number Lidija Šimkutė. Lidija was born in Lithuania during the terrible years of World War II and spent much of her early childhood in DP (displaced person) camps in Germany. In 1949 she and her family arrived in Australia.
Cut off from her native soil, she could easily have turned her back on her origins. Instead, as an adult, she chose to deepen her knowledge of Lithuanian language, literature and folklore, . . . . By profession Lidija has been a dietitian. Since her retirement she has tended to divide her time between Australia and Europe. She has made numerous personal appearances at international poetry festivals. Her poem sequences have been the inspiration for works by composers – among whom is Margery Smith, present with us tonight – and choreographers. Musicians have been drawn to her poetry, I would guess, because of its concision, because of the clarity of its imagery, because of the suggestiveness of its metaphors.
On the one hand Lidija brings us her Lithuanian poems in English translation. On the other hand she takes back to Lithuania her translations of Australian writers, most notably David Malouf. Thus she acts as an intercessor and cultural ambassador in two directions.
We are honoured to have this distinguished international poet among us here in Adelaide, and to be present at the launch of her new book, Thought and Rock.