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.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Guernica Magazine

Guernica Magazine13 min read
Wendy S. Walters: There Is No Neutral Body
Loneliness, anti-blackness, and the need to tell new stories on the 400th anniversary of the first ship carrying enslaved Africans to the New World The post Wendy S. Walters: There Is No Neutral Body appeared first on Guernica.
Guernica Magazine2 min read
SIMA Docs: Marie’s Dictionary
Marie Wilcox is the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni, one of the roughly 130 endangered Native languages in the United States. This documentary follows her efforts to keep her mother tongue alive. The post SIMA Docs: Marie’s Dictionary appeared firs
Guernica Magazine13 min read
The Girl Gangs of Pacific Avenue
I was out in the front garden weeding between the about-to-bloom tiger lilies the first time I saw them. Four girls in bathing suits and flip-flops, their mouths popsicle red and Italian-ice blue. The post The Girl Gangs of Pacific Avenue appeared fi