Janis Elsbergs studied, between jobs, English and Latvian literature at the University of Latvia. He has published three volumes of poetry and has also made a name for himself with translations of Walt Whitman, Henry Miller, Harold Pinter, Shakespeare and Kurt Vonnegut. He is co-editor of the literary journals Luna and Latvian Voices.
He published his first two collections, Vistiraika manta (‘The Purest Thing’) and Rita kafija (‘Morning Coffee’) under the pen-name Janis Ramba, to avoid confusion with his mother, the famous poet Vizma Belsevica, and his brother Klavs Elsbergs, ten years his senior and considered to be one of Latvia’s greatest 20th century poets, who died in 1987 under suspicious circumstances, never properly clarified by the then Soviet authorities. This incident, which has had a deep and lasting impact on Janis Elsbergs’ life, is illustrative of conditions in Soviet-ruled Latvia in the 1980s, in which dissidents still disappeared without trace. It is characteristic of Janis Elsbergs’ poetry that he treats tragic subjects, such as the Kosovo crisis, or the decline of the Latvian language and culture, in an unemotional manner. His style is ironic, laconic, which makes him a rarity in Latvia’s present poetical landscape. About Elsbergs latest volume of verse, Daugavas bulvaris (‘Daugava Boulevard’), which appeared under his own name in 2000, a reviewer said: ‘Janis Elsbergs’ poems reveal an almost feminine intuition. Elsbergs is a student of literature in the best academic and empirical sense of the word. He has a broad knowledge of Latvian and foreign literature, which is not immediately obvious from his poetry. In Elsbergs’ poems everything can be found: friends, loved ones, writers and poets at home and abroad, God and gods, fate, and all things important in life.’.
[Janis Elsbergs took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]
Selected poetry from the poetry festival Vilenica 2000: Janis Elsbergs