POETRY SPRING – an international poetry festival and the most outstanding yearly literature event in Lithuania organized by Lithuania Writers Union. At this festival poets from Lithuania and foreign countries read their verses, the festival also involves actors, singers, musicians and artists.
The festival is being held every year since 1965, on the last week of May. During several days there are more than 50 meetings, what pull people from all Lithuania. On the eve of the festival an almanac ‘Poetry Spring’ with new verses, poetry translations and essays on literature is issued.
A laureate of the Poetry Spring is traditionally wreathed in Kaunas, but meetings are being held in various Lithuanian towns; poets visit the Lithuanian ‘isles’ in Poland. At the yearly poets’ conference poets and critics discuss about various topicalities of the literature world. The traditional schoolchildren poetry evening and informal readings ‘Verses over the night’ are open for everyone. The closing evening is held at Vilnius University Sarbievijus court.
During the festival the most outstanding poets of the last year are being graced, poetry translations into the Lithuanian language and the Lithuanian poetry translations into the other languages as well as the most weighty debut in the almanac are being awarded; an actor – a poetry reciter – is wreathed.
During the last years the Poetry Spring attracts more and more poets from foreign countries and Lithuanian poets of emigration. The guests of the festival were such outstanding poets as Czesłav Miłosz (Poland), Carolyn Forshé (USA), Dannie Abse (Great Britain), Aleš Debeljak (Slovenia), Pia Tafdrup (Denmark). Lately, the geography of the festival guests is expanding: poets come from the far Viet Nam, Mongolia, Japan and Mexico.
The Poetry Spring becomes more and more vivid in the map of the European literature events.
The Poetry Spring is the oldest poetry festival in Lithuania. It started in 1965. In the spring of 2004 a garland of oak leaves was pulled on the fortieth laureate of the Poetry Spring. I do not doubt that all the intellectuals, after seeing two capital letters PP in the pages of newspapers, immediately and without any special efforts decode them as the initials of Poezijos pavasaris (Poetry Spring), and not as the initials of Petras Palilionis, the chairman of the Kaunas branch of the Lithuanian Writers Union.
The Poetry Spring truly carries out direct poetry propaganda in Lithuania besides the fact that the most motley events take place in Vilnius and in Kaunas for already a decade, and besides that crews of poets go to other cities, towns and villages in order to read poetry, to meet readers, pedagogues and schoolchildren. This fashion, existing from the beginning of the Poetry Spring, I fully justify. It is the truest and at the same time the most suggestional promotion of books and their authors. And this is the most realistic chance to expand humanitarian relations between the reader and the writer.
The first Poetry Springs, the debut of which took place in Kaunas, the Valley of Songs, later were removed to Palemonas near the house of S. Nėris, where on the Lakštingalų quay crowds of people used to gather. The opening events were held in the temporary capital, and the closening events – in the state capital. PS used to last an entire week, and the districts even competed with each other for the poets. This poetry festival used to overwhelm the whole Soviet country. In Vilnius and in Kaunas poets spread in companies and fabrics. For example, in 1986 the workers of such fabrics and companies as Vilniaus grąžtų gamykla, Šlifavimo staklių gamykla, Spalio 60-mečio radijo matavimų prietaisų gamykla, Baldų kombinatas, “Lelijos” susivienijimas, Kauno “Sanito” gamykla, Radijo gamykla, Kauno Spalio 50-mečio dirbtinio pluošto gamykla listened poems in their working places. Indeed, the Poetry Springs of that time were truly very pompous and amusing. But despite Soviet decorations and dedications, poetry without any doubt was the language of many meanings.
The discussions that broke out already during the years of independence about if the Poetry Spring with its Soviet tail was truly necessary almost submerged the festival into a grave. It is obvious that every tradition covers with a layer of inert routine and boredom, but still it would be too simple and, let us say, even dangerous just to refuse it. Nobody knows what and of what other quality (or non-quality) would conquer this space.
In recent years more than fifty events of the Poetry Spring festival take place. A hundred and several dozens of poets, translators and readers from Lithuania and various foreign countries participate in the festival. Poet Eugenijus Ališanka, the former director of the International Programmes of the Lithuanian Writers Union, used to organize a separate evening just for the guests from abroad. The evening used to take place in the village of Zabarija (the district of Trakai). Together with poetry readings art exhibitions and actions were organized in the homestead of sculptor Arvydas Ališanka. In 2003 the “landing of foreigners” was moved to the European Sculpture Park.
Those who distinguish themselves during the Poetry Spring receive various prizes and surprises. One of the oldest prizes is the Salomėja Nėris Prize established by the Salomėja Nėris kolkhoz in the district of Vilkaviškis in 1972. The prize was being awarded until 1993 and restored in 2002 (now it is awarded by the local government of Vilkaviškis). Prizes are given for the best translations into Lithuanian and other languages as well as to a debutant of the Poetry Springs almanac and for the best essay in this book. But of course the most important title was – and still is – that of the Poetry Spring Laureate. The very first laureates of the Poetry Spring Justinas Marcinkevičius and Algimantas Baltakis were awarded only with a Bird (by Stasys Krasauskas), which has remained the symbol of the poetry event until the Springs of these days. In 1995 the openinig festival of the Poetry Spring was moved from the Lakštingalų quay to the Old Town of Kaunas, and later to the yard of the Maironis Museum. Therefore the prize was inevitably associated with, according to poet Pertras Palilionis, the unquestioned name of Maironis. In 1996 the first Maironis Prize went to Kornelijus Platelis. This honourable prize is awarded and a garland of oak leaves is put on by the chairman of organizing committee of the Poetry Spring in Kaunas - the most often it is the mayor or his deputies. However, because at present days honour is unseparatable from money (revaluation of the values), the Laureate of the Poetry Spring usually receives 4000 litas. The municipality of Kaunas (earlier together with the district of Kaunas) grants the money, and men from the Maironis Museum make the garland! The Board of the Lithuanian Writers Union recommends a candidate for the laureate to the municipality of Kaunas. But the secret used to become public almost immediately: the name of the future laureate was already being echoed in the literary wings.
The International Festival of the Poetry Spring exists due to the material support of the Ministry of Culture, the Supporting Fund for Culture and Sport, the cultural departments of local governments of the districts. Thus the possibility for poetry lovers to see poets alive depends on the initiative and wish of the local cultural workers.
The festivals poetry collection, in which the works of many authors are gathered, has been published since 1965. The album format of the first almanacs was chosen on purpose. It allowed better to print graphic works as it was thought to coordinate poetry with graphics in its pages. The almanac was and still is published with the logo of the Vaga publishing house, just the format has been changed into a book format and the edition is far from 10000 (this was the edition of the first issues).