Guernica Magazine

Luljeta Lleshanaku: Words Are Delicate Instruments

The Albanian poet speaks to her translator about coming of age under dictatorship and understanding her own words in another language.

In 2011, on a windy afternoon in Kuopio, Finland, the Iranian poet Mohsen Emadi told me he had discovered an amazing Albanian poet and began reading to me from Luljeta Lleshanaku’s poem “Monday in Seven Days.” The poem echoed a question I was obsessed with at the time, when I was contemplating whether to choose literature as a way of life: “How far should I go?” the son would ask only once / “Until you lose sight of yourself.” Mohsen didn’t know very much about Lleshanaku. He told me that she had grown up in politically isolated Albania, living under house arrest during the country’s dictatorship, which spanned more than forty years. What I knew was that her words spoke to me. And in the years since, I have felt like an invisible thread has been leading me to Lleshanaku’s poems and through her words, as if I wasn’t completely in charge.

Though I was born in Slovakia, as a student I was most familiar with the literary canons of Western Europe and the United States. I knew far less about the literature coming from countries that lacked significant political and economic power. Too often, such countries do not have the means to promote their art and literature beyond their borders, and so remain underrepresented. If you didn’t know better, you might think they had no great writers.

I didn’t know I would end up living in Mexico, adopt Spanish as my language, and later write books in Spanish instead of Slovak. Throughout, I kept Luljeta Lleshanaku’s poems with me. Her (). My Slovak translation, , will be published this summer.

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