Biography of Luljeta Lleshanaku
Luljeta Lleshanaku (b. 1968, Elbasan, Albania) is an Albanian poet who is the recipient of the 2009 Vilenice Kristal prize for world poetry (past recipients have included Milan Kundera, Adam Zagajewski, Peter Handke, and Zbigniew Herbert.) She was educated in literature at the University of Tirana and was editor-in-chief of the weekly magazine Zëri i rinisë (The Voice of Youth). She then worked for the literary newspaper Drita. In 1996, she received the best book of the year award from the Eurorilindja Publishing House. In 1999, she took part in the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa. She is the author of four poetry collections, one volume of which has been translated into English: Fresco, available from New Directions. The writer, critic and editor Peter Constantine, in his introduction to Fresco, sums up her style in this way:
Luljeta Lleshanaku is a pioneer of Albanian poetry. She speaks with a completely original voice, her imagery and language always unexpected and innovative. Her poetry has little connection to poetic styles past or present in America, Europe, or the rest of the world. And, interestingly enough, it is not connected to anything in Albanian poetry either. We have in Lleshanaku a completely original poet."
In the same introduction, Constantine further elaborates about Lleshanaku's style:
...one of the elements that distinguishes Luljeta Lleshanaku's poetry is the absence of direct social and political commentary. Her poetry's remarkable variety of themes, which avoids [sic] simplistic reactions to a terrible past and an unstable present and future, is perhaps one of the elements that makes her poems contemporary classics of world literature. The imagery and rhythms captured in the masterful translations gathered under these covers make her poems as compelling in English as they are in Albanian. She speaks individually to her readers, the mark of a true poet able to transcend time and culture.
In his afterword to Fresco, translator Henry Israeli added:
She is quiet but tough, and her raw brand of honesty and biting humor can offend as quickly as her innocence and sincerity can draw one back in. She can be as direct, critical, and perversely funny as she is in her poems, where, for instance, she states that "our breath disappearing in my lungs / is like lilies dropped into a cesspool." "In her verse, joy lives side by side with melancholy in a kind of symbiotic contradiction. Her lines can be exalting, playful, often bursting with a sense of wonder that is unmistakably youthful, and almost naïve. Her poems are highly imagistic, the connections between images precociously and precariously intuitive. They are, for the most part, short, contained studies, still lifes [sic] rendered abstractly, yet they soar within the boundless imagination of a speaker who delights in the sensual, the tactile, who "light as an Indian feather ... can easily reach the moon" and witnesses "asteroids dying like drones / in ecstasy for their love, their queen."
Luljeta Lleshanaku Poems
Your kisses have long been singeing me like a wound And your pristine body Frightens me
The moon nicotine of a kiss. . . A sideways glance
I I was born on a Tuesday in April. I didn't cry. Not because I was stunned. I wasn't even mad. I was the lucky egg, trained for gratitude
The truth is someone else's privilege, when a soul Approaches, lock your door, let it pass As the Jews did, forewarned in Egypt, When it accosts your lips, show no mercy,
For As Long As
For as long as we mirror one another Like this, even distorted In silver spoons, on glasses and on bubbly bottles
Quite By Accident
And yet I recognized That beloved face Lacerated by the green grille.
The Old People's Home
A rusty-coloured gate, no name, The passage to the old people's home.
Always A Premonition
A premonition?... Or is the stench of alcohol On the mailman's breath as he brings me a tardy Letter? A foreshadowing
We never spoke a word about death, mother, Just as married couples never talk about sex, Just as doctors never use the word 'blood,' Just as the mailman never needs to say 'news,' And frogmen never need to mention 'air.'
For my two-year-old daughter Lea I cannot escape your sunflower gaze, Do not judge me for what I lack, A maternal instinct Which like a water bottle grown cold Ends up at the foot of the bed.
The Woman And The Giraffes
The woman recalls That she was once a member Of a family of giraffes. Their warm hides
There is no prophecy, only memory What happens tomorrow Happened a thousand years ago
In this town The annual snowfall Hanging on the rare and solitary trees Brings nothing new.
Sealed within this anguish As in a tent of soldiers with no return Where all of your attempts to escape Inevitably rub against the chest of someone else Lying next to you.
There is no prophecy, only memory
What happens tomorrow
Happened a thousand years ago
The same way, to the same end
And my ancient memory
Says that your false memory
Is the history of a light-hearted bird
Transformed into a crow on a marble mountain.
The same woman will be there