"Poetry, as a writer of the past century said, is born where there is pain. I would add: it is born where there is human "density": nostalgia, anxiety, sadness, smile, tears, carnations, rains or heavens opened later ".
After being published in Albania and France, it arrives in Italian bookstores "Time that leads nowhere", the fourth collection of verses by Arben Shehi. Albania News made this interview with the poet Shehi, who currently lives and works in Tirana.
After the publication in France, the book arrives in Italian bookstores Time that leads nowhere, edited by the publisher Robin editions. How did the idea of publishing outside Albania come about?
First of all I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to interact and communicate, through your portal, with Albanian readers living in Italy. Certainly also with Italian readers, attentive to Albanian cultural developments. Returning now to your direct question, I want to emphasize that any publication of Albanian literature in foreign languages, such as French or Italian, is undoubtedly a testament to its value. Because only in this way can we arouse the interest of a cultured and highly selective reader.
From this point of view I cannot help but appreciate the moment of publication of the book in Italian, immediately after the French one. I take this opportunity to emphasize the fact that, at present, the promotion and general knowledge of Albanian literary developments outside the Albanian borders, in the Balkans, in Europe and beyond, is of great necessity. I am more than sure that this literature, as an important part of Albanian culture, is not yet known as much as it should. In this sense, the image of a “different” Albania that generates and promotes culture, or rather literature and art of excellent quality, is offered in a completely natural way to the European market.
You have also tried your hand at prose, why did you choose poetry as your debut abroad?
This is true, it is confirmation of the impression that you are an attentive observer. At the same time I feel compelled to specify the fact that in the chronology of my literary career, poetry far precedes prose. So my prose work, the novel "Gryka and Pusit" (Toena 2011) was published after my poetic corpus - 4 poetry books, among which, the "Time that leads nowhere", just appeared in Italian bookshops, it is a sort of first promotion outside Albania, that is in France. This is the only reason why my debut abroad happened through the poems. Apparently, however, it is also a profound and natural tribute to the Temple that made me a free and creative man: Poetry. As I have stated many times before, poetry was for me a long chimney towards freedom.
In the book Time that leads nowhere, most of the poems convey a feeling of nostalgia, almost tangible. Was this your goal, your message to readers?
Apparently this feeling was well noted, since even the writer Mario Quatrucci, who wrote the preface of the book, highlighted this in the introductory notes. However, I do not feel either denying it or affirming it. It is impossible and somewhat inconvenient for a writer to comment on his work. Indeed, every sensation, impression or principle that can be perceived in his work is an exclusive and inalienable attribute of the reader. The reader not only accompanies the writer, but is also his reference system. It is his right to maintain the position he prefers from a wholly personal point of view.
Perhaps this is the great fortune of the writer, because he very rarely gets to know his reader. The writer (in this case the poet) does not have a purpose "as such", of which he becomes a slave. Poetry, as a writer of the past century used to say, is born where there is pain. I would add: it is born where there is human "density": nostalgia, anxiety, sadness, smile, tears, carnations, rains or heavens opened later. In this way, I expect that every Italian reader who will honor me with his reading the book just published, maintains the position that he considers most natural, in full harmony with the aesthetic pleasure he will arouse in him. The poet cannot create beauty, it exists, independently of him. He is happy when he manages to highlight this. Maybe said in a symbolic way, when he can read the strange signs of condensation in evaporated glasses due to human warmth, while autumn rain lurks outside with signals that everyone interprets in his own way.
The book has as its epicenter Scutari, your hometown, but at the same time it seems that the whole book attracts to know something more about Albania. Could poetry be somehow a guide for foreigners who read his book?
Yes, clearly this is my clearest truth in this book. Even in the dedication of the first page of the book. I was born in this city, from a family of jurists and doctors. The most important things I remember from my childhood were: the grandparents' house, in the center of the city surrounded by the green of the trees, and also the inherited family library, equally large and very rich!
Perhaps due to the characteristics of this city, (often called "capital of the north" or "cradle of national culture", it was not easy to remain a simple child in this city. The harsh winter, with magical snows, and the autumn embellished by The gold of the trees that were slowly undressed, the frequent rains of this city, the waters of the famous lake that surrounded the rivers on three sides, were my only chance, my uncensored freedom to sail long and without stopping in this fantastic aquatic environment, the only one of its kind in the entire Balkan region.Perhaps he made me this poet city, and then architect, writer ... There he created the best of me, my freedom, or all that followed throughout the my life: the lyric, the colors, the love for the human race, in a nutshell all my future artistic identity.
To return to your question, I believe it is appropriate to repeat that I had a great debt with this creative universe. So in the most natural way, this book was created in a relatively short period, which is now also translated into Italian. However, I do not believe that all this "poetic universe" has been limited only to the borders of a city or a region. I think thought flies freely wherever Albanian is spoken, everywhere the north wind blows, rain, whistle the autumn roofs, fall rainbows in the afternoon, birds fly with the "mother who is no more" ... and death is demystified to reach the dimensions of naturalism.
I am fully convinced that the Balkan charm and the typically Mediterranean scent are clearly visible in the book. Moreover, I would add that, even where they do not appear from the beginning, they become insistently readable in the poetic painting and in the coloring that the rhymes take on unconsciously, revealing an inalienable testimony of the origin from which it flows. The groundwater is so numerous in our parts. This gives me reason about what I said previously, that Poetry itself, the poetry of this book, could turn into a poetic guide of Albania, irreplaceable helper of the foreign reader, to know the magic of its enchanting places. In the luckiest case, I hope, at least, that "my Albania" in this book is the one that instigates the imagination and the virtual vision and not only, in the foreign reader.
You have chosen Amik Kasoruho as a translator of the book and this is a guarantee for the reader. Reading some of the poems in Italian, it was completely imperceptible that those verses had been thought of in Albanian. How much does the role of the translator affect cases like this?
In fact, I feel privileged that the book "Time that is not going anywhere" has been "worked" by Amik Kasoruho. I say worked because, as you said in your question, a good translation is not just a precise and correct transformation of the Albanian text into the foreign language, in which it is translated.
Kasoruho read the book in Albanian, but then re-conceived it in Italian, thinking it in this language. It is a work that derives from a great experience in the field, but also from a great love, above all for literature.
Surely all this constitutes a guarantee for the writer, so that the values in the basic language of the text, are retransmitted in the best way to foreign readers. Without a doubt this is the main reason why you (for some time in Italy), the verses of the book appear designed in the language in which they were just translated. With what was said above, I am convinced that I have given an answer, albeit quick, to your question about the role of the translator. In particular for artistic literature. Because the real translation, which resists time, is nothing but remaking with love and dedication of literature in the language of the reader for whom it is translated. These lines are a special thanks to my friend Amik Kasoruho, for all the love for the letters he nurtures within himself, but which he shares with the readers from time to time.
If I'm not mistaken you are an architect. How can an architect be a poet? Are you more passionate about writing or architecture?
It is an extremely intriguing question and, moreover, his "provocation" contains an artistic texture.
It has never been asked as a question, and I dare to answer it too with a question: How can a poet be an architect? I believe the rhetoric is clear and makes clear to the great possible existence of each of the two "professions", one inside the other. Perhaps in a silent, serene, content way. But the opposite happened in my case. I studied architecture, I graduated in architecture, although I was already a poet. The only difference is that for the latter, no degree is required. Writers do not have degrees because they do not need them. The poets are all the more explicit example of what I have just explained.
To satisfy your curiosity more, I say with great pleasure that the architect's help within the poet is particularly effective. Every artistic creation, even if virtual, starts first of all from an artistic construction. And as such, the poet's imagination is kept under control by the precision and techniques of the architect, whose poetic architecture in this case can only benefit the literary work. Similarly I can tell you that these are two "professions", which together live together in harmony with each other. Which one am I most passionate about? They both live inside me. Most of the time I was able to keep them in an appreciable harmony. I must also add that in Albania there is still no possibility of maintaining one's own work as a writer. This may happen in the future, but not in the near future, in my opinion.
Have you planned any presentation of the book in Italy?
Yes, of course. As you may already know, a presentation is scheduled next week, the 18 May in Turin, from the Albanian Culture Center in collaboration with the various libraries of Turin, where the organizers hope to gain the presence and attention of both Italian and Albanian public authorities residing in the Piedmont region. Likewise, a presentation of this kind will be made by the Italfida Cultural Association, with a center in Chieti (Pescara), next autumn, under the direct observation of the well-known Albanian poet Anila Hanxhari, now in Italy for almost two decades.
Arben Shehi, Albanian poet, was born in Scutari in the 1954, lives and works in Tirana. Starting as a designer, he is now Professor of Architecture at the University of Tirana and active in various promotional bodies, currently advising the President of the Republic of Albania. He is involved in the social and political life of his country, to which he contributes with opinions and articles, on architecture, sustainable development and economic policies. He has published several books of poetry, all characterized by a profound sensitivity and lyricism.
Published on Albania News the 14 May 2012. Original title "Kohë për askund" - Intervistë me poetin Arben Shehi . Translated by Daniela Vathi.
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