Death of a Hen
About the book
Latgale is a region in Latvia, which has historically always been left out and separated from the rest of the country.
It has its own struggles, as we all do, but the culture in Latgale is somewhat unique – and there is even a different language in use. It is not an official language in Latvia but has been acknowledged as a historical variety of Latvian, rendering it therefore preservable and maintainable.
Nowadays there are more than a few writers who publish their works in Latgalian, but they struggle to become visible and published in Latvian cultural media. In some way, the Latgalian language and Latgale itself are still seen as separate parts of Latvia and Latvian, and are considered to be useful only in an ethnological sense.
At the same time, there is a lot of talk about ‘Latvianness’, and the identity of a Latvian person as something monolithic and one-dimensional. This is not true. Now is the best time to recognize the diversity, to fully comprehend the reality of Latvia, and to enrich public understanding about what shapes the country.
Doing justice to the contribution of both their forefathers and contemporaries in the creation of the written word in Latgalian’s new, confident, and loud voice, Marija Dzeisla enters the scene of Latvian literature with their poetry collection “Vysta smierts” (Death of a Hen or All That Death – word play in Latgalian).
In Marijas Dzeisla’s poetry, existentialism obtains a Latgalian face; experience, history and heritage in the poems intertwine with the realities of life as it is today, under the circumstances of a pandemic in Latvia, in Latgale. The poetry collection is full of irony and pertinent humour. The unique imagery – the ability to connect the cosmic, beginning with stars and planets and ending with political events in Latvia and worldwide, with the negligible; for example, with the rag blanket made by a grandmother, or with the birth of a calf – is what adds to Marija Dzeisla’s style, and pleasant originality. This is also the reason why it is easy to identify with Marija Dzeisla’s poetry, even if you are not from Latgale. Marija Dzeisla awakens both the memory and the veins (‘dzeisla’ means vein in Latgalian), leading to the roots at the foundation of human existence. It is contemporary, extraordinary and utterly essential in these times when we are forced to consider the identity of ourselves, our families, and our nations, as the result of politically motivated actions.
Year of publication: 2021
Original title: Vysta smierts
Page count: 96
Original publisher: House of Languages (Valodu māja)
Original language of publication: Latgalian
“[..] the existence of Marija Dzeisla is, in some ways, like a large-scale performance of Latgalian literature. It is no secret that writers who write in Latgalian have spoken a lot about an unwillingness to publish them in Latvian cultural media. But Marija Dzeisla [..] has been published both in the magazine Domuzīme and the online magazine Punctum.lv. How did they do it? I do not guarantee that this is the whole truth, but I think that it is the effect of publicity. Marija is known from Facebook, Marija is mysterious and interesting. Understandable, undeniably – Marija creates good literature.”
Radio Broadcast Kolnasāta
“No matter how up to date the poems about networks and QR codes would seem, those [poems] which speak about inner revelations and emotional experiences – about death, eternity, love – target the most powerfully. Through pain, through wading through the river of life. But in general, there is a good balance between modern and eternal themes in this poetry collection. If there were just one or another, I probably would not feel such strong impulses and impressions. In a way, it both fascinates and frightens that the exact same things happen in a skyscraper in New York as in a country house in Latgale – a person talking to themselves on Zoom or on a video conference, making or watching video clips on YouTube, giving likes to other people’s pictures on Facebook, or scrolling through Twitter.”
“Unlike their closed off identity, the world of Marija’s poetry is open. No need to break in or push in. One line at a time, it flows into the reader by itself [..], reflecting what has been read in a reader’s own experience, their childhood memories, stories of parents and grandparents. The voice of Marija is clear and bright, their narrative is steady, there is a sense of (self-)irony, a light smile, smart in their tone. [..] While reading the collection I laughed in some places, but in others a heavy weight pressed on a fragile spot. Closing the last page, a deep feeling caused by the poetry gusted to my tear ducts.”
Marija Dzeisla has been publishing poetry on the Internet since 2016 and their circle of supporters since then has become noticeable. There is an interest in their age, gender, etc. among several texts published on their Facebook profile, but all discussions always end with the realization that such details are not important to feel a connection with the text. The text becomes the central object of this bond, and Marija Dzeisla the voice of subconsciousness.
Elena Helfrecht (1992, born and based in Bavaria) is a visual artist working with photography. Her work revolves around the inner space and the phenomena of consciousness, emerging from an autobiographical context and an opening up to the surreal and fantastic. Interweaving memories, experiences, and imagination, she creates inextricable narratives with multiple layers of meaning and a visceral iconography. The folklore and landscapes from her childhood are rooted in her heart and continuously influence her work, as does her love for Art History, Literature, and Psychology. Elena’s work has been exhibited and published internationally.
I wasn’t on Facebook I turn off the sound on my phone I didn’t write to anyone on WhatsApp I had forgotten my Skype password Myspace is old-school it’s not the same on Twitter anymore all there are on Pinterest are chicks I’m just so fed up with everything in general I sit on the toilet a moment of joy
I tamed a small beast I gave it a short poem a day Sometimes I gave it two whole carrots A week later it was already speaking Latgalian Everything is very simple with Latvian literature You can just simply translate Skalbe and Ļūdēns After the sauna sitting with a mug of tea Feeling like a human With your hair washed. Though without a hairdresser Everything is very simple with literature Take a piece of paper and write it down
1 there is neither death nor love only a river filled once again with hummocked ice I might cross over it if there was someone on the other shore to give your immortality to or at least complain to about your waterlogged galoshes 2 it’s easy to go across a frozen river only there are no fish I put a tin of sprots in my plastic bag as I walk it hits my knees where is that road’s beginning and end as I walk on the river
that year I didn’t have a birthday I wasn’t born and didn’t die once I quietly fed the goldfish putting my feet up on a stool in the kitchen no one knew me my neighbor drank, pushed his wife around their living room children bawled somewhere in another apartment someone pounded pork chops, it smelled of stewed cabbage the laundry is out on the balcony for the second week already everyone had died in the building opposite the wind swept everything away
once a year a stork claps its bill on the roof of the house moron children are not born here and won’t be here is the land of the dying folks they all come here to die my mother came here before retiring my grandma, grandpa and his sisters died here we burned their beds in the field my great-grandma died in her corner sanctuary1 I heat up the wood-burning stove, I clean out the cobwebs I put a candle in that corner made for God now I will be here all offices are in quarantine gills, fins, and other organs in social networks show on your Youtube channel that you live in a rural area without electricity no one will believe you
1 A place located in the corner of living quarters, typical for Orthodox believers, but also for Catholic Latgalians, used for prayer and reflection. There are generally two sacred images placed there – one of Jesus, and one of Mary.
death has already visited me what should I be afraid of I sat on the porch with a mug of coffee and watched all sorts of water fowl fly past it will snow in three days the apples picked, the gooseberry bushes tended to as if nothing had ever been there God conceals the world with a dark hat my grandma and grandpa’s garden has a headscarf the asters preserve their high stems despite everything and I do the same
her first shoot ’em up flick — she filmed it on her cell phone on an abandoned farm near her great grandma’s house it got close to twelve thousand likes on her Youtube channel Oskars is here he sells white bread, chips, and schnapps in the village shop Oskars’s relatives were on the deportation lists they took other people such were the times she knows, that her great-grandpa never talked about it every else did there wasn’t one couple in her class they weren’t able to shoot a romantic film on the old airport runway osiers through the asphalt osiers through books, through lists it’s hard to be the child of a scumbag the sins going back nine generations on the walls of an abandoned farm hemlock and shit washed away by the rain kill everyone beat thistles with a stick bring an end to everyone
Translated by Jayde Will