Griffin Poetry Prize 2019 International Shortlist
Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation
Albania’s Luljeta Lleshanaku grew up in negative space, living under family house arrest during the years of Enver Hoxha’s autocratic communist rule. Her recent poems are a response to what was missing then, not only in her life but for her whole generation, evoking absences, emptiness – what was unseen, unspoken or undone – through the concept of negative space. The space around objects, not the objects themselves, becomes the real, most significant part of an image, bringing balance to the whole of a composition, so enabling Lleshanaku to look back at the reality of her Albanian past and give voice to those who could not speak for themselves.
Many of the poems are tied to no specific place or time. Histories intertwine and stories are re-framed, as in her long poem ‘Homo Antarcticus’, which traces the fate of an inspirational explorer who could adapt to months of near-starvation in sub-zero Antarctica but not to later life back in civilisation, one of a number of poems in the book relating to society’s pressure on the individual. Sorrow and death, love and desire, imprisonment and disappointment are all themes that echo deeply in Lleshanaku’s hauntingly beautiful poems.
Negative Space draws on two recent collections published in Albania, Almost Yesterday (2012) and Homo Antarcticus (2015), and follows Haywire: New & Selected Poems, her first UK selection published by Bloodaxe in 2011, a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation which was shortlisted for the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize in 2013.
Ani Gjika's translation from the Albanian of Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Negative Space was shortlisted for the International Griffin Poetry Prize 2019.
Griffin International Poetry Prize Judges’ Citation: “With a lesser known original language, the more precious the gift of translation! Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Negative Space offers a rare glimpse into contemporary Albanian poetry. Effortlessly and with crisp precision, Ani Gjika, herself a poet, has rendered into English, not only the poems in Negative Space, but also the eerie ambience which resonates throughout the book, the deep sense of impermanence that is one of the many consequences of growing up under severe political oppression. ‘Negative space is always fertile.’ Opening trauma’s door, we’re met by a tender and intelligent voice with stories illuminating existence in a shared humanity, thus restoring dignity. In a world fractured by terror and violence, Lleshanaku’s poetry is infinitely exciting, soothing us, its citizens.”
'I loved Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Negative Space (tr. Ani Gjika, New Directions/Bloodaxe Books). I’m fascinated by Lleshanaku’s balance of surreal imagery and explicit social criticism. Her explorations of intuition and emotional life seem both timeless and iconoclastic, wisdom custom made for the twenty-first century.' - Gregory Pardlo, Words without Borders (Best Translated Books in 2019)
‘Negative Space is as full of trademark-Lleshanaku violence, sickness and chemical elements as anything before. It shades from wisdom into folklore and back.’ – Michael Hofmann, London Review of Books
‘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.’ – Peter Constantine
'The tyrant's insistence that there is no private realm has the unintended effect of making it necessary to write powerful and durable poems which suffer all the constraints imposed by confinement and yet have something ungovernable in reserve, namely their accuracy.' – Sean O'Brien, The Guardian, on Haywire
‘The Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku's first British collection is a revelation. The poems are peculiar and sonorous in these translations, full of objects and souls, transformed and given wings in Chagall-like metaphor. Her grand and melancholic opening poem 'Memory' sets the tone for this remarkable collection. Lleshanaku's poetry essentially describes Albanian rural life. Albania, remote and for so long an outcast in Europe, has in Lleshanaku's poetry a static, timeless quality.’ – Sasha Dugdale, PN Review, on Haywire
Luljeta Lleshanaku reads from Haywire
Luljeta Lleshanaku reads four poems from Haywire: 'Marked' (in both English and Albanian), 'The Mystery of Prayers', 'Monday in Seven Days' (parts 5 and 9) and 'Memory', all from Haywire. Neil Astley filmed Luljeta Lleshanaku at Rathfarnham, Dublin, in March 2010, when she visited Ireland to read at DLR Poetry Now in Dún Laoghaire.
North America: New Directions