Poem as a White Raven Released from Darkness – The Poetry of Luljeta Lleshanaku

Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku (1968 – ), short-listed for the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize. Photo Credit: Guernica Magazine

Waiting for a Poem

I’m waiting for a poem,
something rough, not elaborate or out of control,
something undisturbed by curses, like a white raven
released from darkness.

Words that come naturally, without aiming at anything,
a bullet without a target,
warning shots to the sky
in newly occupied lands.

A poem that will well up in my chest

and until it arrives
I will listen to my children fighting in the next room,
and cast my gaze down at the table
at an empty glass of milk
with a trace of white along its rim
my throat wrapped in silver
a napkin in a napkin ring
waiting for late guests to arrive…..

Luljeta Lleshanaku from Between Water & Song – New Poets for the 21st Century, edited by Norman Minnick, White Pine Press, 2010

I was delighted to see that the Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku, along with her translator Ani Gjika has been short-listed for the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize for her 2018 collection Negative Space. Lleshanaku is an original voice. Plain-spoken, straight-forward but also a shape-shifter, a magician who adds a dash of mystery and magic inside her words. And sometimes a quiet eeriness.

I discovered the poem above in an anthology nine years ago and quickly included it in my collections of poems on poetry.Maybe it’s just me but the way she has written her last lines I feel a strange ambiguity. The lack of commas in the version of the poem I have from her book a child of nature adds an eeriness for me.

Is she describing a napkin in a napkin ring on a table like the glass of milk? Or is she, her throat wrapped in silver, the napkin in a napkin ring? Yikes. So much going on.

She says she’s waiting for a poem to arrive and that it will come in the details of the dailiness of her life (children fighting and a glass of milk) and it seems that it did arrive. Maybe as a late guest to her word table, word feast. It arrived with the jolt of that strange and compelling image of a throat wrapped in silver, a napkin in a napkin ring. That constraint. This sense she is wearing a choke collar. And knowing the repressive regime in Albania she grew up in is their a touch of the political in this poem? Maybe.

No matter the undercurrents running through this poem I love being able to sit inside its subtle mysteriousness and feel its bigness. Feel how it captures the elusiveness of a great poem. The reader running hard to catch up to the poem but never quite getting there.

I found this profound meditation by Lleshanaku on suffering and the healing power of poetry  in a 2017 interview in Gurenica:

Years ago, I thought that if a person had experienced injustice in her life, it meant she would be fair, because she would know what it meant to be a victim of injustice. But now I am not so sure. Experiencing injustice can also make a person dangerous. Carrying a sense of revenge and anger can make a person victimize their own self. I could easily be one of them. But writing was the thing that protected the child inside me, helped me deal with my fears, displeasure, pain, wounds. Writing was the instrument by which I discovered the beauty and meaning in the midst of misery. So poetry protected me from myself.

This idea that writing poetry, a poem,  can protect us from ourselves. Marvelous! Ah, that kind of poem would be, as she says a poem is, a white raven released from darkness.

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