Translation: Albanian Women Poets

Poems by BLERINA ROGOVA GAXHA, DONIKA DABISHEVCI, and VLORA KONUSHEVCI.

Translated from the Albanian by VLORA KONUSHEVCI.

Poems appear below in both Albanian and English.

Translator’s note

The Albanian language is one of the oldest languages in Europe, although its written form appears rather late in the historical record, sometime in the mid-fifteenth century. It occupies an independent branch of the Indo-European language tree; hence it is considered an isolate within that language family, with no kin conclusively linked to its branch. It is believed to be the descendant of Illyrian, but this hypothesis has been challenged by some linguists, who maintain that it derives from Dacian or Thracian. However, to this day there is no scholarly consensus over its ascendant, and it is still a subject of scientific debate.

Even though the Albanian language and its origins present a challenging field of research for linguists, not much interest has been shown from foreign students and linguists in studying it. The creative depth, richness, and artistic consciousness of Albanian literature remains relatively unknown, as it lacks literary translators; furthermore, it remains one of the least-known national literatures in Europe.

With this in mind, as an Albanian poet and a scholar of English language and literature, I’ve taken upon myself the mission of translating Albanian literature into English, predominantly that of Kosovo Albanian poets. It’s been over a decade since Kosovo gained its independence and only two decades since the last war. After years of oppression, segregation, and war, Albanian poets have abundant and lively stories to tell. They will add a valuable piece to the mosaic of modern world literature.

I have chosen to translate Albanian women poets. These women poets have a rich poetic world. They have diverse motives, the courage to break tabboos and test poetic freedom, and the courage to make their poetry provocative, striking, tempting, but also inspiring and encouraging for those who fight oppression, who want freedom, and whose daily objective is equality.

Even though I stumbled upon translation over two decades ago during the war, when I started my career translating for foreign war correspondents out of necessity, literary translation was for me a choice. I believe the aim of poetic translation, apart from preserving poetic opacity and figurative richness, is to make it work in the target language, to make it sound natural, and to preserve tone and mood. It’s much easier if the translator is in love with both languages—in other words, a logophile—as the act of poetic translation is purely an act of love. And it is quite fortunate when the literary translator is a poet herself.

The poem “Bags” by Blerina Rogova Gaxha, a contemporary Albanian poet, snatches the reader’s attention from the first lines by bringing them into a physical yet metaphorical space, a revelation and a journey onto a life not fully lived. Throughout the poem the reader can feel a sense of hastiness, the poet’s agony over the lingering confusion through objects representing the past and the anguish of future uncertainty. The rhythm and color spectrum give the reader the poet’s authentic flavor and charm. Blerina’s poem achieves the revelation of a hurried life, which in this day and age is a concern for almost everyone. Chasing after bigger and better things alienates us from ourselves and the essence of living, as we never stop and smell the roses. 

The poem “To a One Night Stand” by Donika Dabishevci, the well-known, award-winning poet, is quite revolutionary for the Albanian literature scene and its deeply rooted patriarchal society. Through her verses, Dabishevci proclaims the greatness and aesthetic simplicity of intimacy as a light-stricken moment, representing for the first time in Albanian literature the poetic model of Eros against Thanatos. Her courage to discover the erotic passions and spiritual freedom breaks taboos. Erotic feelings, even though they highlight the cult of pleasure, are not a guarantee for inner happiness and peace. Repentance, longing, and exhaustion more often than not ignite troubles in the human soul, forcing the latter to live between reason and folly.

My own poem, “Balkan Products,” refers to the food products from the region usually found in European and US supermarkets under the same name. The Balkan peninsula’s location makes it strategically important, and thus the focus of European powers. It’s quite hard to define this region except in geographical terms, as nothing is quite consistent here—in particular, peace—which, in the words of Emily Dickinson, “is a thing with feathers,” and remains a permanent hope in a region with great appetite for war. This may seem paradoxical, but such is the Balkans: a place of great paradoxes, haunted by destruction and wars. My poem ironically suggests that Balkan Products can only peacefully coexist as physical objects outside their homelands, and ultimately can only serve their people living abroad. Their numbers have skyrocketed in the last decade due to the region’s instability, corruption, and poverty.

In conclusion I would like to emphasize that I strived to offer the reader what the Germans call zeitgeist (spirit of a particular place or time period). This translation tends to overcome linguistic and cultural gaps, being aware that the spirit of poetry lies in the use of figurative language, a metaphorical space as it transcends the traditional limitations of language.

— Vlora Konushevci

 

Bags

By Blerina Rogova Gaxha

and just like that
it was time to pack up and leave
to roll up my life
move it from the small apartment
into a larger one

black bags white bags
nothing fits in there easily
a life well folded
tightened into the cupboards
clothes, shoes, panties, rings, blank pictures and frames
big earrings rusty earrings forgotten ones in the boxes
old and new books
books on every side
yet how can life fit bit by bit into bags
clenched jammed zipped
folded unfolded
it dissolves into black and white bags
piece by piece my carefully folded life
scents and perfumes spread throughout the room but
before leaving someone has to collect things
my husband lets me know that time is running out
I don’t know how to gather life bit by bit
how to squeeze it into white and black bags
nylon bags hemp bags paper bags
a piece of life here a piece there

I’m scared of plucking well-folded memories
a necklace a bracelet a white blouse
all black shirts
someone has to collect the items
put them in bags and carry them
until dust covers them again
to put the eighth-floor sky in some black bag
or a blue one or grey
in what bag shall I put you
in what bag should I put myself
there are no more bags
(I’ve ran out of bags)
I don’t have a bag for my black boots
for my cashmere coat

Can anyone lend me some bags for my life
some bags to lend for my life
to put my dreams there
one by one to fold them beautifully
woven bags with plant fibres for the life which refuses
to come with me
to fold my memories in silk bags
in those purple bags
but someone has to collect some things before leaving
both dust and sludge and spider webs
to leave it clean for the new owner

alas, there is something that does not fit in the bag
as there are such small bags and giant bags with no bottom or top
that you just can’t lift.

 

 

Thasë

By Blerina Rogova Gaxha

dhe kështu
erdhi koha me i mbledhë plaçkat e me ikë
me e mbledhë jetën
me e zhvendosë prej apartamentit të vogël
në një të madh

thasë të zinj e thasë të bardhë
asgja nuk futet kollaj aty
një jetë e palosun mirë
e ngushtueme nëpër dollapë
rroba, këpucë, brekë, unaza, fotografi e korniza të zbrazta
vathë të mëdhenj vathë të ndryshkun harruem nëpër kuti
libra të vjetër e të rinj
libra në çdo anë
po qysh e zënë thasët jetën palë-palë
të ngjeshun të rrasun të zipueme
të palueme e të shpalueme
m’shkapërderdhet nëpër thasët e zinj e të bardhë
copë-copë jeta ime e palosun me kujdes
erna e parfume përhapen nëpër dhomë po
para largimit dikush duhet me i mbledhë sendet
burri ma bën me dije se koha po shkon
e unë nuk di qysh me e mbledhë jetën copë-copë
me e ba duq nëpër thasët e bardhë e të zinj
thasë najloni thasë të konoptë thasë letre 
një copë jetë diku një diku tjetër
kujtimet e palosuna mirë kam tutë me i shpuplue
një qafore një bylyzuk një bluzë e bardhë
të gjitha bluzat e zeza
dikush duhet me i mbledhë sendet
me i futë nëpër thasë e me i bajtë
deri sa të vnojnë pluhun sërish
qiellin e katit të tetë me e futë në ndonji thes të zi
të kaltër a të hirtë
në çfarë thesi me të shti ty
n’cilin thes me hy unë
thasët u sosën
s’kam thes për çizmet e zeza
për pallton prej kashmiri
do thasë hua për jetën time kush i ka
do thasë hua
me i shti andrrat e mia
nji nga nji me i palue mirë
thasë të endun me fije bimësh për jetën që refuzon
me ardhë me mue
me i palue kujtimet e mia n’thasë të mëndafshtë
n’ata thasë ngjyrë purpuri
po dikush duhet me i mbledh sendet para largimit
edhe pluhunin edhe llumin edhe rrjetat e merimangave
me e lanë pastër për pronarin e ri

mjerisht ka diçka që s’e zë thesi
ka thasë aq të vegjël e thasë gjigantë pa grykë pa fund
që s’i ngre dot

 

 

To a One Night Stand

By Donika Dabishevci

I smell your scent
my body slightly trembles
my heart slowly beats
out of fear of you not coming
oh don’t you dare
my soul shall be torn to pieces
stronger than death
my longing for you

***

I want to do it
in a vast desert
or on an island surrounded by the sea
where flames come alive
kindled at once
in sand and mud
in water and sweat
in a starry moonlit night

Let me love you, as I have never
loved before
bewitching love let’s make
without words or dreams
just passion
I have never told you
you’re a stallion
and I’m untamed
I shall have no regrets
in this life
touch me
don’t say a word
let’s do it
all this long sleepless night

***

I want to surrender to the night
just as a mother does to her child
no words
no vows
no conditions
I want to have all of you,
naked to the bone
to burn
to melt
to erupt
and be happy
only for being here
only for being with you
if only for this moment
I shall fight until my last breath

***

I don’t want to see you again
or feel a world of pain
or see the lump trapped in my throat
my breath abandoning me
my body forsaking me
I’m giving up on you

 

Dashnisë së nji nate

By Donika Dabishevci

Erën tande nuhas
trupi lehtë m’dridhet
zemra m’rreh ngadalë
prej tutës që s’ke me ardhë
mos gabo
se shpirti copë do t’mbahet
e ma e fortë se deka
asht’ dëshrimi jem për ty

***

Due me ba
tuj kanë
n’nji shkretinë të paanë
a n’nji ishull plot det
ku dallditë frymojnë
n’fllin e vet
n’zall e n’lloq
n’ujë e n’djersë
n’natë me yje e hanë

T’due si s’kam dashtë
kurrë
asnjiherë ma parë
dashni soji t’bajmë
pa fjalë e andrra
veç afsh

Kurrë s’t’kam thanë
se ti je hamshor
e unë harlisun jam
për gja tjetër n’kët’ jetë
zhig s’më mbet’
prekmë
pa fjalë
për net pa gjumë
ta bajmë

***

Due me iu dhanë natës
qysh i jepet nana fmisë
pa asnji fjalë
asnji peng
asnji kusht
Due me t’pas’ krejt,
t’zhveshun
dej n’asht
e me vlu
e me u shkri
me shpërthye
e me kanë e lumtun
veç që jam n’kët’ botë
veç që jam me ty
sall për kët’ çast
kam me luftue dej n’frymë t’fundit

***

Bash s’due me t’pa ma
me ndie dhimtën e ndamjes dej n’asht
me e pa lamshin e zanun n’fyt lak
frymën tuj m’u përbiru
e trupin tuj m’lshu

Bash du me çue dorë prej teje

 

Balkan Products

By Vlora Konushevci

Look at us! Away from home, joined together
on a shelf side by side, cunningly hating,
unable to kill each other
and prove who was here first,
stripped of pride and nationalism
trapped under one name
“Balkan products.”

Kosova’s sausage is made
from the hands of hollowed out mothers
inside home museums
where they dust the pictures of their missing children
under the agony of mass graves in nearby barren fields.

Croatia produces a truly royal confectionary
used on special occasions, although some call
it an Ustasha’s chocolate, made in Zagreb by
widows who fed their wounded husbands      
to the hungry war deity in Vukovar.

Bosnia’s cevaps are sinfully delicious,
made to entertain the gods of the underworld,
by grieving mothers of Srebrenica 
while burying their lives
into eight thousand graves.
Serbia claims its intellectual property on Ajvar,
made out of peppers which can be hot or sweet
depending on the recipient, its colour is red.
Not the cardinal’s red, nor the wine’s red but
red like the pirate’s flag indicating no mercy,
Mary Stuart’s red.

Yet Balkan’s best product is made of flesh.
Doctors, engineers, IT specialists,
the best of them are for export. 
Our flesh minced by wars, although some call them conflicts,
can at least shop for “Balkan products” when feeling homesick.

 

Produktet Ballkanike

By Vlora Konushevci

Shihna neve! Larg prej shpisë, të bashkuem
në nji raft përkrah njani tjetrit, plot urrejtje e dinakëri,
me vra njani tjetrin s’mundemi,
as me dëshmu kush ka qenë i pari,
të zhveshun prej krenarisë e nacionalizmit
kurthurue nën nji emën
“Produktet ballkanike”.

Suxhuku i Kosovës bahet
prej duerve të nanave të mbytuna
brenda muzeumeve shtëpiake
ku e heqin pluhurin prej kornizave t’fëmijëve t’zhdukun
nën agoninë e varreve masive pranë djerrinave.

Kroacia prodhon nji ambëlsinë njimend mbretënore
përdoret në raste të veçanta, edhe pse disa e quejnë
çokollatë ustashësh, e bame në Zagreb nga
vejushat që e ushqyen hyjin e uritun të luftës
në Vukovar me burrat e tyne të plagosur.

Qebapat e Bosnjës janë të shijshme deri n’qiell,
t’krijueme me i argëtu perënditë e nëntokës,
nga vajtojcet e Srebrenicës
teksa varrosin jetën e tyne
në tetë mijë varre.

Serbia pretendon pronësinë e saj intelektuale në Ajvar,
që bahet prej specave të cilët munden me qenë djegës ose jo
varësisht nga konsumuesi, ka ngjyrë të kuqe.
Jo të kuqën e ndezun, as të kuqën e venës, por
të kuqen e flamurit t’piratëve që paralajmëron se mëshirë s’ka.
Të kuqen e Mary Stuart.

Megjithatë, produkti ma i mirë i Ballkanit asht prej mishi e gjaku.
Mjekë, inxhinierë, specialistë të internetit
ma t’mirët prej tyne janë për eksport.
Mishi jonë i bluem prej luftave që disa i quejnë konflikte,
munden t’paktën me ble “Produkte ballkanike”
kur t’i merr malli për shpi.

 

Blerina Rogova Gaxha (1982) was born in Kosovo. She is a poet, essayist, and literary scholar; she has a Ph.D in literary sciences. Laureate of the International Prize for Literature, Crystal Vilenica Award (Slovenia, 2015), and the National Prize for the best work in poetry (2020), she has given numerous presentations at literary festivals and bookfairs in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Ireland, and Macedonia, and she has been a guest writer at international writers’ residencies in Vienna, Split, and Novo Mesto. Her poems and essays have been translated and published in German, English, French, Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Greek, Romanian, Turkish, Bosnian, and Macedonian. Her work has been presented in the anthology of European poetry Europe Grand Tour, 2019. Gaxha’s essay “Easy Life,” written for the project Archipelago Yugoslavia of Traduk, has been translated into several languages ​​and published in major Western media. She is a member of the Kosovo PEN Center. She has published Gorgona (poetry, 2009, winner of the National Prize for Poetry, 2010), Kate (poetry, 2013), Forms of Kadare’s prose (literary criticism, 2015), She comes from the East (poetry, 2016), Thasë (poetry, 2020), and Death in modern Albanian literature: Ndre Mjedja, Lasgush Poradeci, Mitrush Kuteli (monograph, 2021).

Donika Dabishevci (1980) was born in Kosovo. She studied Albanian literature at the University of Prishtina, where she completed her master’s degree; she continued study at the University of Tirana, where in 2013 she received her doctorate, focusing on “Poetic prose in Albanian literature.” She has worked for several newspapers and magazines, and for Radio Television of Kosovo. At the end of 2019, she opened the portal for culture, literature, and art “ObserverKult.” She has published Krizantema të plasura (poetry 1996), Imazhe të brizhta (poetry 2004), Proza e poetizuar: F. Konica, M. Frashëri, E. Koliqi, M. Camaj, M. Hanxhari (monograph 2015), Kam me ardhë si deka (poetry 2015), and La tua robinja (Italy, 2017). A member of the Kosovo PEN Center, Dabishevci has presented her poems at local and international festivals, and she has presented scientific papers at a large number of conferences and seminars related to the field of Albanology and Media. Her poems have been translated into English, German, French, Turkish, Swedish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Serbian. She has recently opened the publishing house Littera.

Vlora Konushevci (1981) was born in Kosovo. She completed her studies in English language and literature at the University of Prishtina, where she continued her master’s studies in linguistics. She published her first book of verse, Lavdi Vetes (2019), supported by Kosovo’s Ministry of Culture. She compiled and translated Poetry without borders, a bilingual anthology of Balkan poets (Albanian and Serbian); this project was supported by the UN mission in Kosovo. She is a fierce advocate of equality and has written numerous articles for national newspapers on this subject. She is the author of the lyrics of the song “Ajo asht ba,” which has launched the “16 days of activism” campaign against violence against women organized by UN agencies in Kosovo. Winner of many awards including the “Poetry for Peace” award organized by KultPlus and UN Women, Konushevci’s poems and translations have been published in many literary magazines and cultural portals in Kosovo and abroad. She is a part of the Alternative War anthology, published by B Cubed Press (2021, USA) and was also published in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review (2021, USA). In 2019 she established the online platform www.poetetshqiptare.com, where approximately 100 Albanian women poets are presented. In January 2022, she published a bilingual (Albanian and English) anthology of 30 Albanian women poets under the title Magma, a project supported by Kosovo’s Ministry of Culture. 

Translation: Albanian Women Poets

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