Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku
PBS Recommended Translation Spring 2018
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.
‘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