Haywire


Like you
I too think of our lives as a thing without history
an apple you bite once
then throw away without remorse.

(Luljeta Lleshanaku, from ‘A Mutual Understanding’)

Last year, Bloodaxe published Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Haywire: New and Selected Poems in English translation. Born in Albania in 1968, Lleshanaku grew up in the latter years of Enver Hoxha’s regime, the period in which it became strictly isolationist and undertook its extensive bunker-building programme (example above). She remained there after the Communist government collapsed, and her work continues to reflect her relationship with her country, past and present. An afterword to a 2010 volume, included here, outlines her decision to discard a number of poems resulting from a writing residency in the USA because ‘I felt as if I was following the wrong star, as if I had falsely adapted my literary sensibilities to an American aesthetic.’ She notes:

…in Albania one must hurry to speak, even at the cost of being harsh and direct. ‘Do it while you have the chance’ are the words we live by. Perhaps this is the secret code of many postcolonial countries that have not been the masters of their own history… Rising from your own ashes like a phoenix and trying to enjoy the fact that you are still alive are our motivation.

The Bloodaxe blog (http://bloodaxeblogs.blogspot.co.nz/2011/09/luljeta-lleshanaku-completely-original.html) has several poems from the book, together with a video recording of Lleshanaku reading them. They include two parts of ‘Monday in Seven Days’, a strong sequence, which – like many of the poems in the second half of the book – alludes to the poet’s family and community, in and out of time. Characters and their circumstances are vivid, clear and complex. There’s an uncle who ‘went to Florence/to have his pneumonia cured – a time he remembers/as fondly as a honeymoon’; the poet as a child, dissecting her toys; and at one point

Here comes Mustafa, the drunkard,
with his head stuck to his body’s right side.
He is Monday’s Saint, guilty of everything,
absorbing everyone’s sins
like a swab of alcohol-dabbed cotton
pressed to a wound.

Guilty/Saint; corruption/cleansing; the scapegoat simultaneously made Other and held intimately close. Other poems are similarly strong – ‘The Madwoman’s Roof’, for example, in which a woman impotently curses the man who ‘tests what strength he has left//by throwing stones against the tiles’ of her home: ‘She is history, unable to cast blame on anyone’.

The world in these poems is both local and universal, intensely inhabited, not narrowly ‘political’ but political as any situation in which (in Robin Morgan’s distinction) ‘power over’ holds sway over ‘power to’.

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