Oyster Boy Review 18  
  Winter 2003–4
» Cover

» Art
» Poetry
» Fiction
» Essays
» Reviews
» Contributors

» Oyster Boy Review
» Levee 67


Fresco: Selected Poetry, by Luljeta Lleshanaku

Patricia Moyer

  Fresco: Selected Poetry.
Luljeta Lleshanaku.
New Directions Publishing, 2002.
96 pages, $12.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 0811215113

A network of communication, at least ten translators, including the poet, created the versions in this intriguing edition by the contemporary Albanian woman poet Luljeta Lleshanaku. Although we have only the text in English, we see the directness and power of an excellent poet. I discovered after choosing them that my favorite poems were those that the author, born in 1968, had co-translated.

Few of us could learn more from a bilingual edition. I certainly have no knowledge of Albanian. The poet and playwright Henry Israeli writes an elegant afterward about his visit to Albania in 1996 to meet with poets including Lleshanaku whom he met at the international poetry program in Iowa. We learn about politics in Albania before and during the five-year interlude between the Communist regime's fall and the governing Democratic Party's collapse, of the restrictions that delayed the poet's access to education, the censorship that restrained the publication of her poetry, and much of her family history.

There is a most helpful introduction by Peter Constantine giving us more information about Albanian history and literature with relevant details of the collapse in 1990 of the Stalinist heritage. We learn that Albanian was the last European language to move from its oral tradition to a written form. Turkish was still the official language at the turn of the twentieth century.

In one delicious poem, we meet a woman who remembers her life within a family of giraffes. "Their skin so warm / it baked the air to terra cotta" invites us to expect more surrealist techniques. ("The Woman and the Giraffes") We do have hints and glimpses of such devices in the poems, but the main style is representational narration of a high order.

Particularly effective are the poems about a mother: "We never talked about death, Mother / like married people who never speak about sex." We move with the poet and her mother towards death: "fear of it graces everything you touch." In the fine poem, "Chamomile Breath," the poet urges her mother not to "wait for death to come noisily like the Man of Carnivals" but to expect "instead a child with spindly legs." "Nocturne. Soft Whistle" imagines the mother napping, snoring after doctor's prescriptions:

My little, old mother
past tense
or future past
wrapped inside the gray shawl
of an acrylic poem.

Words and language are expertly explored in poems like "What is Known" where the "search for unknown words" fails because of repetition, yet the words finally "take pride in their age": "After all, they are exhibits in a museum / And I, transitory, passing before them / Can only cloud their glass / with my breath."

I am delighted to have met this poet.