Literature Review: The 1001st Blackish-Blue Night

 Līga Horgana is back with a literature review of The 1001st Blackish-Blue Night, a collection of poems by Imants Ziedonis that have been adapted into songs by the musicians of Fonds "Viegli" and translated by Ivars Šteinbergs.

Thanks to my middle school student who had discovered a great interest in and passion for the poetry of Imants Ziedonis, I decided to once again write about this author. I had previously described his short prose works, Epiphanies and Fairy Tales, but this time I have turned to his poetry: a very nice collection of song lyrics by the artists of “Fonds Viegli” all based on Ziedonis’s poetry, which was first published in 2017 in the lead up to Latvia’s 100th anniversary. It relates so well with this time of the year when we especially remember our past and celebrate being an independent nation in our own free land. As one musician Māra Upmane-Holšteine says, “Imants Ziedonis is in the Code of each Latvian.” (62)

But what makes his poetry so “Latvian”? So close and understandable for all generations of Latvians? Looking through this small collection, I would say it is first of all self awareness: a clear understanding who we Latvians are. A small nation of two million has to know of what great importance it is not to be negligent and see the meaning of the “littleness.” It allows us “in some wonderfully paradoxial way” to see “the grand scheme of the world and the universe – the nature of things” says Renārs Kaupers (40). His song “In My Little Picture Frame” is most likely the best known of all the ones created by “Fonds Viegli” artists and has been performed on different stages in both Latvian (“Mazā bilžu rāmītī”) and English with an a capella arrangement by Ēriks Ešenvalds. 

“In my little picture frame
It is you I see.
Other picture in this world
Cannot match it’s beauty.” (44)

Seeing that everything has a meaning is understanding the unbreakable bond between man and the nature.

“Holy is the bush in the garden,
A bird prays to its god.
And suddenly I hear –
It’s my God it’s praying to!” (53)

And this way of thinking is so close for Latvians as a historically peasant nation that’s never fully denied pre-Christian mythological views, clearly stating that divinity is present all around in nature and a human lives in the same room with it.

However, the main reason Ziedonis’s works attract readers so well I believe is their youthfulness—the unstoppable need to be in motion because, “Nowhere is as good as on the road,” and, “I am the road, I walk myself” (97). The need to be honest and once a year “give the heart a bath” (29). The courage and will to speak out loud and stand for yourself because sometimes, “There’s a need for massive bells” and “a need for broadcast” (21). They point out the true values and are not afraid of being caring and gentle: 

“Caress me slowly, softly, without a sound,
Moment the moment the world slows down.
The world likes things going lightly,
Touch me, touch me, ever so slightly.” (113)

This collection is collaborative in various ways. First of all, the creative songwriting process started in Ziedonis’s summer home – the place that has become his museum.  One of the musicians who had gathered together “picked up his guitar, opened a book of poetry written by Ziedonis and said: “Let’s do what we do best and what we like! Let’s write music with the poet’s lyrics and let’s sing! The museum is all about creativity. Let’s start to create!” (11) It is possible to listen to all those songs in Latvian on YouTube. The translation work is also collaborative, as Ivars Šteinbergs' translations have been contributed by his associates and other talented translators.

This collection is a good invitation for non-Latvian readers to discover Ziedonis's amazing poetry and learn more about not only Latvian literature but also about our culture, mentality and values. It should remind Latvians anywhere in the world how unique we are and be proud of our origins.

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