Translated by: Ani Gjika
“Language arrived fragmentary / split in syllables / spasmodic / like code in times of war,” writes Luljeta Lleshanaku in the title poem to her powerful new collection Negative Space.
In these lines, personal biography disperses into the history of an entire generation that grew up under the oppressive dictatorship of the poet’s native Albania. For Lleshanaku, the “unsaid, gestures” make up the negative space that “gives form to the woods / and to the mad woman―the silhouette of goddess Athena / wearing a pair of flip-flops / and an owl on top of a shoulder.” It is the negative space “that sketched my onomatopoeic profile / of body and shadow in an accidental encounter.” Lleshanaku instills ordinary objects and places―gloves, used books, acupuncture needles, small-town train stations―with subtle humor and profound insight, as a child discovering a world in a grain of sand.
“A child who paid for the political sins of her grandparents in Hoxha’s Albania; a young poet who seems to have been writing for a hundred years in a language that’s only been written for a hundred years; an erotic lyricist in the ruins of a state; Luljeta Lleshanaku is the real thing, and as unexpected as an oasis behind a mountain on the moon.“— Eliot Weinberger
Luljeta Lleshanaku is internationally known as Albania’s most important and inventive poet of her generation. A winner of International Kristal Vilenica Prize in 2009, she is the author of seven books of poetry in Albanian and six poetry collections in other languages. Lleshanaku has worked as a lecturer, literary magazine editor, journalist, and screenwriter, and is currently the research director at Tirana’s Institute of Studies of Communist Genocide. She is the author of eight poetry collections published in Albania. New Directions also publishes her collections Child of Nature and Fresco: Selected Poems.
Ani Gjika is an Albanian-born poet, writer, and literary translator, and the author of Bread on Running Waters. A native of Albania, Gjika moved to the U.S. at age 18 and earned an MA in English at Simmons College and an MFA in poetry at Boston University. Her other honors include awards and fellowships from the Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, the Banff Centre International Literary Translators Residency, and the Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize. Gjika‘s own poetry has appeared in Seneca Review, Salamander, Plume, From the Fishouse, and elsewhere. Her translations from the Albanian have appeared in World Literature Today, Ploughshares, AGNI Online, Catamaran Literary Reader, Two Lines Online, From the Fishouse, and elsewhere.