Jonas Zdanys Honored by National Library of Lithuania With Exhibit of Poetic Works

News Story: August 1, 2010
Jonas Zdanys, Ph.D.

Honored but surprised is how Sacred Heart University's Jonas Zdanys, Ph.D., describes his reaction when he learned that the National Library of Lithuania was mounting an exhibit of his work and career as a poet and translator to celebrate his 60th birthday.

Zdanys, associate vice president for Academic Affairs and a professor of English at Sacred Heart University, turned 60 on July 30; the exhibit opened on Aug. 2. The virtual exhibit chronicles Zdanys’ career over nearly 45 years, and includes photographs, a video, an interview and examples of his poetry and other work.

He has received numerous awards and prizes over the years, and he is modest about the latest honor in Lithuania. “Being asked was a surprise,” he says. “It was a very nice gesture,” noting that “people in Lithuania and maybe in a lot of European countries celebrate writers in a different way than we do here.”

He adds, “I take great pride in being able in this lifetime to be both poet and translator. I am doing something for myself but I am also doing something for this culture, this literary tradition in Lithuania, that without translation people would not be able to read.”

He describes himself as a Lithuanian who lives in America, learning the English language when he was five. He published his first poem at the age of 15.  Since then, he has produced 39 books, 16 of them containing his original work and 23 being translations of other Lithuanian writers. He has done all of that while working for 18 years at Yale University as an associate dean, assistant to the president and teacher, and for more than 10 years as the chief academic officer and associate commissioner of higher education for the State of Connecticut before coming to Sacred Heart University.

The soft-spoken professor was born in New Britain in 1950 a few months after his parents immigrated to the United States from a United Nations camp for refugees. He holds dual citizenship and has been to Lithuania 14 times. His parents, now in their 80s, also have returned to their native land on several occasions, and Zdanys hopes to travel to Lithuania in October.

Zdanys, who is working on a new book of original poems, speaks passionately about his craft. He talks about his theory of the creative process, the act of writing, particularly the intensity of poetry as opposed to constructing a story through prose. “Poetry is kind of a series of epiphanic moments, like these little pins that you stick into time and somehow stop time. That is what you capture in a poem.”

“If poetry is such an epiphanic moment,” he adds, “you try to create a constellation of linguistic, emotional and intellectual elements that define that moment when you are writing a poem.”

Zdanys, who also is a photographer, explains that Lithuanian literature began with a “great oral tradition. There is something called the dainos – songs that define the cosmos, both from the point of view of this great overarching thematic sensibility, but also the elements of day-to-day life, how you engage in social connections with one another. It was all done through song; people would sing all the time, so you get this resonance in your head, which I had ever since I was a child, of musicality, of the power of language, the power of words.

“I think everyone is a poet. I think we are all artists. We all have a creative urge. Some of us are simply fortunate to be able to give it shape.”

As a translator, he has helped Lithuanian writers find a wider audience in America, where their work is being well received. One of the translations, he said, was chosen as a selection to be included in a series of books for the blind. “It was valued significantly enough to be included in that series.”

His goal has been and continues to be -- with his own poetry and that of other Lithuanian writers -- to “demonstrate and show the world what we are and what our literature is about.”

To view the exhibit, visit:  http://www.lnb.lt/parodos/2/