Kukutis in the Dark
Radio Play Kukutis in the Dark is based on The Ballads of Kukutis by Marcelijus Martinaitis, translated by Laima Vince, published by Arc Publications, 2011
Audio drama by Amanda Dalton
Premier Broadcast on Christmas Day 2022 on Resonance FM
In 1988, when I was a twenty-two-year-old student of English and German literature at Rutgers University, at a time when my grandparents’ homeland, Lithuania, was still occupied by the Soviet Union, I wrote a letter to the Rector of Vilnius University, requesting a Soviet visa to study Lithuanian literature for a year at the university. My youthful bold plan (a plan I felt absolutely called to execute) was to translate the Lithuanian poet Marcelijus Martinaitis’s Kukučio Baladės (The Ballads of Kukutis) from Lithuanian into English. I wished to publish these outrageously absurd and at the same time beautiful poems so that the West would hear Lithuania’s voice and that freedom for Lithuania would not be forgotten. I did not travel to Lithuania in September 1988 to join a dissident group or become involved in politics or save Lithuania or to be a hero. I went to Lithuania with a simple mission—to translate poetry.
When I met the poet Marcelijus Martinaitis, a professor at Vilnius University, as a shy self-conscious Lithuanian American girl and managed to stammer out my request to translate his work of genius, The Ballads of Kukutis, he simply agreed. Martinaitis did not know English, so we worked with a system of sound with the poet reading lines and me finding the approximate rhythm in English. In October 1988, when the Lithuanian Independence Movement, Sąjūdis, where Martinaitis was a member, organized its first Congress, Martinaitis asked me to go and translate from Lithuanian into English for the foreign press. This is how my adventures translating for Sąjūdis began. But I never stopped translating poetry. At the time, it completely made sense, I was a student of poetry and many of the members of the independence movement were poets. We understood each other.
I am struck by the quality of my translations and that they have held up over time. This was an exceedingly difficult poetic text to translate with subtle allusions, metaphors, coded language designed to evade Soviet censorship, and standard Lithuanian mixed with Martinaitis’s native Samogitian dialect. I joined a folk singing group at the time so that I could delve deeper into the subtle poetics of Martinaitis’s poetry through learning the lyrics of folk songs. These poems are rooted in an archaic Lithuanian life, now lost. Martinaitis’s poems are a work of genius, and nostalgia…
These poetry translations became my senior independent study project at Rutgers in 1990 when I worked on refining the translations with the poet Alicia Ostriker. Once I had completed my translation of the entirety of the ballads included in The Ballads of Kukutis, I sent the manuscript along with a letter to the poet Czesław Miłosz. He read my translations and wrote me a letter in which he stated that the translations were good and the poems intriguing. However, it was 1990, and Miłosz wrote that he feared that most American and English readers would not understand the totalitarian system that served as the backdrop to the poems and that many of the cultural references would be lost on them. He suggested that I break up the manuscript and publish groups of poems in different American literary journals, setting aside the poems that were too rooted in the experience of Soviet occupation for the average reader to understand. It was, after all, 1990, and although Lithuania had declared independence, the world had not yet de jure and de facto recognized Lithuania’s independence. I followed Miłosz’s advice and published most of the ballads in various American literary magazines. Eventually, however, Lithuania did become a member of the European Union and NATO. When Marcelijus Martinaitis and I were invited to the Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2008 to perform a bilingual reading of my translations of his poems from his book K.B. Įtarimas or K.B. The Suspect, published by White Pines Press, we met Tony Ward and Angela Jarman, editors from Arc Publications, who invited us to publish The Ballads of Kukutis with Arc.
Listening to these translations that I worked on with Marcelijus Martinaitis over thirty years ago in the midst of the Singing Revolution, brought me back to that time of courage and idealism when Lithuanians dared to stand up for their independence.
Here is the Resonance FM introduction:
A new audio drama by Amanda Dalton, adapted from The Ballads of Kukutis, by Marcelijus Martinaitis translated by Laima Vince, and starring Paterson Joseph, Guy Rhys and Kristina Buikaite. The Ballads of Kukutis is an iconic poem sequence by Lithuania’s leading poet, Marcelijus Martinaitis, written in the last days of Soviet rule in Lithuania. Its hero is the joker Kukutis, acting and commenting on the world around him in the manner of a Shakespearian fool. Kukutis is a folk hero in Lithuania, symbolising the little people rising up against the elite. When Lithuania broke away from Soviet rule in 1988, in what became known as the 'Singing' Revolution, thousands of people gathered on the streets singing and shouting the name of Kukutis as a symbol of a free, independent Lithuania. Produced by Polly Thomas, for ARC Publications. Funded by the Lithuanian Culture Institute.
Directed by Alicia Gian-Mačiulis
Actors: Ridas Jasiulionis
Laima Vincė’s play The Interpreter was staged by Vilnius Chamber Theatre in Lithuanian as Vertėjas and was part of the Baltic Pride 2013 program, and then was shown as part of the repertoire from 2013 – 2016.
Directed by Laima Prokofjevienė, Dublin, Ireland.
Read more at: Huffpost
Laima Vincė’s play A Hike at the Seashore (Žygis prie jūros) was staged in Lithuanian by the Lithuanian immigrant community theater, Alternatyva Alternatyvai, in Dublin, Ireland throughout 2017, and then in 2018.
A Mong Kok
Romeo and Juliet
Amazon KDP Publishers: 2015
available at: amazon.com
Laima Vincė’s play A Mong Kok Romeo and Juliet was staged at the American International School of Hong Kong in 2013, 2014, 2015.
Amazon KDP Publishers: 2014
available at: amazon.com
Laima Vincė’s play Chaos@ChungkingMansions was staged at the American International School of Hong Kong in 2013, 2014, 2015.
Friday Night Live in Hong Kong
Amazon KDP Publishers: 2013
available at: amazon.com
Laima Vincė’s play Friday Night Live in Hong Kong was staged at the American International School of Hong Kong in 2013, 2014, 2015.