Hi, folks! Today, we’re finishing up our adventure with the third and final post in which I talk about what I got up to on my recent trip to Latvia to discover the latest and greatest in Latvian literature. You can check out my announcement here, click here to check out the last post, and be sure to stay tuned for further posts every day this week and a wrapup on Sunday with handy links to everything you need to know about my trip to the Baltics.
On Friday 9th March, we started by heading back to Nice Place to learn about The Horse Catalogue, which is basically an initiative to pull together Latvian children’s authors and illustrators to show off the creative capabilities of the country. Authors and illustrators were assigned to each other through a lottery to make it more random and to foster innovation, and they were each provided with a horse-themed quote to make sure that the final product had some cohesion.
That presentation was fun because we were given a short quiz to take, and the results were then given to one of the illustrators in attendance. The idea was that it was a little bit like a Buzzfeed quiz except instead of being given a result, our answers were given to the illustrators and they drew up a bespoke fridge magnet for each of us. Mine was created by Reinis Petersons, who’s the only full-time Latvian illustrator. It appears that it’s just as difficult to make a living as a creative in Latvia as it is elsewhere in the world.
Many of Latvia’s illustrators are also working in animation, and we were treated to a screening of a short film called The Kiosk by Anete Mclere. Based upon a well-known snacks kiosk in Riga, it tells the story of a woman who gets sick of doing the same thing day in, day out and who decides to take her kiosk and to relocate by the seaside. It was beautiful, and well worthy of the plaudits and awards that it’s received.
It was interesting to see what each of the illustrators did as a way to pay the rent. Anna Valvare worked as an architect, while others found work as fashion designers and sculptors. To create The Horse Catalogue, each illustrator was asked to use a style that typified their work so that it would act as an introduction for international markets, but it was also stressed that illustrators are used to adapting their style for different projects because there’s really no such thing as a specialist. Each story requires a different illustration style, so Latvian illustrators need to be able to adapt what they do based on who they’re doing it for and what the final result needs to look like.
From there, we moved on to Mr. Page, a stunning new bookshop which aims to bring a personal touch back to book shopping. The staff told us that Mr. Page is “[their] love letter to books and [their] gift to the city”, and the love letter theme was literally written all over the walls. They asked people to write about something that they loved on the walls and the results were phenomenal. My favourite was, “My Riga, my Riga, my love.”
It’s a classy bookshop, one with a table made from recycled cardboard and where the staff and customers alike are expected to wear white gloves so that the oil from their fingers doesn’t leave a mark on the books. All of their stock is carefully selected, and they often buy books with someone specific in mind. More often than not, the customer comes in and picks the book up without even realising that it was stocked with them in mind. And of course, the staff pointed out that “the best thing about running a bookshop is being able to buy all of the books you want without feeling guilty if you don’t read them.”
We were at Mr. Page to meet the Orbita Group, four Russian-speaking Latvian poets who turn being bilingual into an advantage. For example, they had one publication which was two books, one in Latvian and one in Russian, that attach to each other by magnets to reinforce the fact that it’s a single book. Then there’s Stereo, which references being bilingual because stereo sound comes from two channels.
The Orbita guys were fascinating. They organise the “Words in Motion” video poetry festival in Riga and once ran an illegal pirate radio station playing poetry until it was shut down after six days. Their installations are cool, too. One of them was a wall of radios that you walk along at your own pace, meaning every visitor receives a different experience. Another was a visual sonnet composed of fourteen shelves of physical items.
Possibly the coolest thing about meeting the Orbita Group was the conversations that we had on the nature of poetry. For example, the visual sonnet definitely didn’t quality as a poem in the traditional sense of the word, and indeed words were conspicuously absent. But Mr. Page had a book in stock called something like “This is Art Because I Say it is”, and I think the same applies to poetry.
That led to an entirely different conversation about whether an original poem and the translation of it are the same. As a general rule, it depends upon the translator and upon the poem in question, because if there are complex metaphors or dual meanings then it can be difficult to convey the same meaning in a different language. In the end, we decided it was too difficult a question to answer.
After meeting the Orbita Group, we had a little free time to explore Riga before heading over to our final major event of the trip, the launch of Inga Gaile’s 30 Questions People Don’t Ask. What was great about that is that we were treated to readings in both Latvian and in English and that we had a chance to chat to the poet afterwards. I bought a copy of her book and got it signed, and you can see what I thought about it by checking out my review.
Next up was dinner, which was something of a farewell meal. But the spirits were high and when we got back to the hotel, a few of us went to the hotel bar for a nightcap and to have a chat before going to bed. I went to bed at 1 AM and got up again at 5:30, which meant it was an interesting flight home. Still, I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower during the flight and absolutely loved it, which is always good. I gave up on a few of the books I took with me because they were terrible, and besides — I had a load of Latvian literature to catch up on.
And that pretty much brings us to the end of my epic trip to Riga. It was certainly eye-opening (not to mention exhausting), and I’m grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to know more about the Latvian literature scene before it blows up across Europe and the rest of the world, which I’m pretty sure it will do. All it needs is a little time, but if you want to help the process along then be sure to visit them at the London Book Fair or to go and buy a book! If you haven’t already, give Dog Town by Luize Pastore a go. It’s being turned into a movie and everything.
In the meantime, thanks as always for reading and be sure to check out the Latvian Literature website and to give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram for further updates. You can also subscribe to their YouTube channel for more. Speaking of YouTube, be sure to head over to my YouTube channel and to subscribe to that for daily videos on bookish stuff (including more Latvian Literature Week stuff), and follow SocialBookshelves.com on Facebook and Twitter for more. I’ll see you soon – on another adventure!