Contemporary Verse from Albania
Photo: Aurel Duka

An introduction by Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck

As a geographical and cultural entity, and as a nation, Albania has always been somewhat enigmatic and misunderstood. In the eighteenth century, historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) described it as a land within sight of Italy and less known than the interior of America. The spirit of this quotation has lost surprisingly little of its validity over the last two centuries. Albania, bordering on Greece and what was once Yugoslavia, and less than one hundred kilometres from the southern Italian coast, has until very recently been no better known to most other Europeans than Tibet or Timbuctoo. Even more of a terra incognita is Albanian literature, including Albanian poetry. Some steps have been taken in recent years to improve this situation, with the publication of our Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry: an Elusive Eagle Soars (London & Boston 1993), the literary history Albanian Literature: a Short History (London 2005), and a forthcoming major historical anthology of Albanian verse to be entitled Lightning from the Depths: Anthology of Albanian Poetry.

Although a few collections of individual Albanian poets have appeared in the English-speaking world recently, among which are Ali Podrimja (New York 2000), Flora Brovina (New York 2001), Luljeta Lleshanaku (New York 2002), Eqrem Basha (New York 2003) and Visar Zhiti (Los Angeles 2005), it cannot be said that contemporary Albanian literature is known to any great extent.

It is therefore our particular pleasure to feature a broader selection of recent verse from Albania in this issue of Transcript. We wish to stress from the start, however, that this selection is but a sampling of the many talented poets the Albanian nation has to offer. It does not strive to represent the entire gamut of contemporary Albanian lyrics. It must also be noted that this issue of Transcript focuses only on poets from the Republic of Albania, and thus excludes writers from the "other half" of the Albanian nation, i.e. the poets of Kosova and of the Albanian minorities in Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and southern Italy.

Contemporary Albanian verse can be said to date from the early 1990s after the fall in 1990-1991 of the surrealist Stalinist dictatorship which isolated the country and its people from the rest of the world for half a century. Although there was no lack of gifted poets who began their literary careers under the dictatorship and continued to publish thereafter, this collection endeavours to cast light, in particular, on some of the victims of that dictatorship, some of the talented voices that were muffled or that consciously held back until the storm had passed. They, too, are part of the literary mosaic of this dynamic, yet still somewhat elusive Balkan nation.

Robert Elsie, Olzheim, Germany
Janice Mathie-Heck, Calgary, Canada

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