There are five stellar poets featured in the latest issue of Two Lines:
Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Ani Gjika
Luz Pichel, translated by Neil Anderson
Carsten René Nielsen, translated by David Keplinger
Monchoachi, translated by Patricia Hartland
Kiwao Nomura, translated by Eric Selland
Albania’s Luljeta Lleshanaku grew up under difficult conditions, living under family house arrest during Enver Hoxha’s communist regime. One of her uncles tried to assassinate Hoxha, and so Lleshanaku and her family were condemned and faced even more severe restrictions than others in their community. In an interview for Guernica last summer, Lleshanaku explained, “Our family was like a quarantine: No one could escape, and no one could get in.”
Here are some excerpts from the interview that touch on her introduction to literature, as well as her feelings about the language she writes in and being translated.
On how reading became a means of escape from the isolation of totalitarianism:
Albania was a very isolated country, politically, economically, and culturally. Our only connection to the world was through a radio program called Voice of America, and through the Italian television waves, which we caught illegally through primitive, improvised antennas. The only way to escape from reality was reading books. When I was twelve years old, I had already read all the books for children in the library. Confused, the librarian gave me some novels for adults and asked, “Are you sure you will not misunderstand them?” I smile when I remember that now. I think she hesitated because she was afraid love stories might influence me in a negative way. So my books were hidden everywhere—as “love letters,” as I call them in one of my poems. I had to hide those books from my mother; the last thing she wished for me was to be a daydreamer. And in such circumstances, she was right to worry.
On what it’s like to be a poet living in a globalized world and yet writing in a language spoken by so few:
It is a misfortune. In the beginning, it didn’t bother me, because I found pleasure sharing my poems with a small group of friends, and in local magazines. My expectations were very modest. But when I got more ambitious and started wanting more, it felt like language was an obstacle, a cause for an isolation. When I read poems aloud, people who don’t speak Albanian praise the sound of the language, but I never took that as a compliment. In my opinion, poetry is not a sound and shouldn’t be perceived as musicality. To me, poetry is a rational act. I never write a poem if I’m not sure what I am going to say or what I want to communicate.
I am grateful to the foreign translators who by chance found my poems, and did such heroic work translating them from such a small language.
And as for her feelings about being translated:
Most of all I feel lucky, because I belong to a very small language, and the probability of falling into the hands of foreign publishers—especially great ones—is very small, almost accidental. Being translated is the only way to communicate with the readers throughout the world. My poems were translated into English first, and that’s how other publishers found my work.
At the same time, being published in other countries and languages is a challenge, since you never know what the foreign reader is expecting from you. I come from a culture that was isolated for a long time—I have my own story to tell, in my own style, and an aesthetic approach that was mostly self-taught. So, does it fit a reader’s curiosity? Will it meet their expectations?
Each language has its own temperament; some languages make a poem more dramatic or sad, and others make it more playful. The translation of my work into Slovak means a lot to me. Czechoslovakia has had a very interesting literary tradition, and at different times it has been quite avant-garde. Czechoslovakia and Albania share a lot when it comes to history and political aspect, but not very much when it comes to aesthetics. So I am excited and curious to see how my poetry will be perceived in Slovakia.
Every time I hear one of my poems in another language, I instinctively step away a little bit, and enjoy them as if it was somebody else’s. It is like admiring the wrapping on a gift, when you already know what is inside.
Lleshanaku’s English-language translator, Ani Gjika, will be joining us at our Two Lines Launch Party: Celebrating Women in Translation event next week, Thursday, March 15, in San Francisco. Get your ticket here. It’s only $10 and includes a copy of Two Lines and an open cocktail bar!