Modernist Poetry in Latvia: Masculinity, Hybridity, Temporality

Organiser: Kārlis Vērdiņš (University of Latvia)

The panel contributes to the recent trends in the scholarship of international modernism that advocates for the expansion of its chronology, geography, and forms. Our papers follow through the three different stages of modernism in Latvian poetry that correspond to three different periods of social order. Kārlis Vērdiņš, in his paper “‘He Must Be A Magnificent Lover’: Proletarian Bodies and Male Desire in Aleksandrs Čaks’s Early Poetry,” explores the representations of masculinity in the early poetry by Aleksandrs Čaks (1901–1950), arguably the greatest Latvian modernist poet, in the interwar period in the Republic of Latvia. Čaks sexualizes the bodies of the working class while emasculating the bodies of the bourgeoisie,thus attempting to overturn the puritanism of the international leftist literature. Ivars Šteinbergs, in his paper “Modernism as Contraband? Tracing Some Aspects of Western Poetics in Soviet-Era Latvian Poetry,” analyzes the presence of western modernism in the poetry of Soviet Latvian authors as “foreign” influences that shaped the literary culture of occupied Latvia alongside the demands of socialist realism and local traditions of the past.Looking at selected works by poets whose creative life coincided with different moments of the occupation, it is possible to read them as a form of literary contraband that strives to introduce artistic currents from the other side of the Iron curtain into the national discourse–a perspective that is supported by a comparative analysis between examples of local lyric and the foreign writings that Latvians read and translated (as in the case of the works of Federico García Lorca, Arthur Rimbaud et al.). Artis Ostups, in his paper “Presentist Approach to Post-Soviet Modernism: The Case of Arvis Viguls,” addresses the contemporary Latvian poetry of the 21st century, where modernism is still an unfinished project. Arvis Viguls (born 1987), in his four collections of poems, seeks to free his work from postmodern irony to revitalize late modernist poetics. His third collection, The Book (2018), is rich in intertextuality that could be linked to a melancholic vision of history.


Kārlis Vērdiņš (University of Latvia) – «He Must Be a Magnificent Lover»: Proletarian Bodies and Male Desire Aleksandrs Čaks’s Early Poetry

Ivars Šteinbergs (University of Latvia) – Modernism as Contraband? Tracing Some Aspects of Western Poetics in Soviet-Era Latvian Poetry

Artis Ostups (University of Latvia, University of Tartu) – Presentist Approach to Post-Soviet Modernism: The Case of Arvis Viguls