031- The power of poetry and critical thinking with Tomas Venclova

Tomas Venclova is one of the most important cultural figures of 20th century. He is a poet, prose writer, scholar, philologist and translator of literature. He has an immense passion for translating and maintaining the European culture. It is mixed with dislike for the totalitarian regimes.

"Venclovas song begins, where the voice normally fails, breaks, and where all forces of the soul are exhausted" - said Joseph Brodsky.

In his poetry, Venclova focuses on rhythm and sound, and the particular qualities of the Lithuanian language.

His poetry themes are contemporary history, the loss of one’s home, and, of course, linguistic expression.

An Open Letter to totalitarian government

In the spring of 1975, Tomas Venclova wrote An Open Letter  to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, asking to leave the country because he simply disagreed with a regime:

“Communist ideology is distant to me, and, in my opinion, it is wrong to a large extent. Its absolute rein brought many hardships on our country. Informational barriers and repressions of those who think otherwise pushes the society to stagnation and our country to backwardness. It can be fatal not only to the culture.”

It was a very bold decision, and as he himself says in our interview, there were just two ways this could of ended: imprisonment or freedom.

He was lucky. Lucky to have friends in the west who started asking about his situation. It would of been too much bad publicity for the Soviet Government at that time, so they released him.

Afterwards he became a professor at Yale University, where he lived until Lithuanian re-gained its independence. In our interview Tomas mentioned that he didn't expect to see Lithuania free just after 11 years after he wrote his letter to Soviet regime asking to leave Soviet Union.

Listen to the full interview with Tomas Venclova about his life and ways he approaches poetry and language: