Gëzim Hajdari Anita Pinzi

I met Gëzim Hajdari on a cold day in January 2013, in Frosinone, a medium-sized province in Ciociaria about eighty kilometers south of Rome. He waited for me at the gate of his building and walked me up to his home, a few ample and bright rooms full of books, pictures, images and objects mapping the multicultural trajectory of the poet’s life and work. It was lunchtime and he welcomed me with pasta and a local recipe for tomato sauce (one which adds onion to the tomato, he pointed out), together with salad, cheese, red wine, and fruit – a monastic lunch as he would describe it. We then moved to his studio which overlooks a green, sun-splashed panorama of layered hills, vineyards and fig trees; good reasons to stay, and good ground on which to host, if not to replant, his uprooted poetry. 

Gëzim Hajdari is acknowledged and prized as the major poet in the multi-voiced panorama of Italian literature of migration. Born in 1957 in the central Albanian city of Lushnjë, Hajdari left the country in 1992 for Italy, where he still lives today as a self-exile. His numerous poetry collections are published in bilingual editions. They are the products of his particular bilingual creative process, which consists of a parallel writing in both Italian and Albanian, in a constant linguistic migration between them, a simultaneous translation and recreation of one language into the other. Ombra di Cane (Dog Shadow, 1993), Antologia della pioggia (Anthology of Rain, 2000), Stigmate (Stigmata, 2002), Spine nere (Black Thorns, 2004), Poema dell’esilio (Poem of the Exile, 2007), Corpo Presente (Present Body, 2011) and his latest work Nûr: Eresia e Besa (Nûr: Heresy and Besa, 2012) can be counted among his major works. His works have received praise from noted Italian literary critics and numerous literary prizes, among them the Montale prize for Italian poetry (1997), one of the country’s most prestigious accolades. 

Hajdari’s poetry is mostly autobiographical. On one hand it is strongly linked to the oral lyrical Albanian tradition and its mythical conventions and figures, such as the Kanûn honor code and its Besa oath, the predatory spirits known as Xhin and the demi-goddesses known as Zàna. At the same time, though, it is also a historical poetry, delving as it does into the tragedies of past Albanian events in a constant search for a lost human and intellectual ethics. 

Exile is the major cipher of Hajdari’s poetry, an exile which stems from his opposition to the Albanian political and cultural status quo both before and since the fall of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime, and which has evolved into an existential feeling of isolation and displacement. Poema dell’esilio, published in 2005 and again in 2007 in an extended version, is the work that most thoroughly unfolds the multilayered meaning of the poet’s exile. This ongoing pamphlet of 325 five-line stanzas sheds light on social, cultural, ethical and political aspects of Albanian society, and on its historical tragedies and political crimes. A selection of stanzas is translated into English at the end of this conversation. 

Anita Pinzi: I wanted to discuss your exile in its multiple forms: as a political consequence, as an existential mark, and as a literary theme characterizing all your literature, in particular your work Poema dell’esilio (Poem of Exile). As you remark in many of the verses of that work, in Albania, your native land, you have been threatened with death, attacked and – once in Italy – accused by your fellow Albanian citizens of interpreting the role of the exile in order to catch the attention of the West. At the same time, literary critics on your work – mostly Italians – tend to read your exile as an existential and intellectual condition, which would make of you an exiled even before your migration to Italy. How do you define your exile? 

Gëzim Hajdari: Thank you for your interest in my work. My exile was born from a historical and political condition and originated in Albania. I was among the founders of the democratic and republican parties – opposition parties – of my city, Lushnje. I was elected General Secretary to the province by the republicans of my city, therefore I participated in the political elections in 1992 as a candidate to the parliament. In that occasion I was defeated by the political and cultural mafia of the former Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha. For that and for denouncing openly – by giving first and last names – both Hoxha’s crimes and the intersections between mafia and politics of post-communism after the fall of the regime in ’91, I have been attacked and threatened with death. Because I didn’t accept political and cultural compromises, I had to leave my Albania and flee to the West. 

Since then, this exile has not stopped, it’s made of many exiles, and it has many shades. Whether yesterday I denounced the injustice and the tragedy of my people during Hoxha’s Stalinist dictatorship, now I denounce the political corruption, along with the cultural and editorial politics both in Albania and Italy. I despise the publishing industry that publishes books like shoes, that constructs books in the editing rooms. I fight for a true, honest and ethical literature, one that recovers the musical, epical and civil sense of the word. This is just an example to show how my exile has thousands of forms, thousands of mouths and eyes, how it is made of many exiles. As I write in my poems, I’m exiled into the exile, and always will be. It’s a personal rebellion, a symbolic and very significant one. 

AP: Poema dell’esilio is the privileged ground where your denunciations find articulation. It is a complex text, one which makes the autobiographical account its pivotal element to investigate the political, cultural and social history of Albania since the ‘40s to the present day. One of the epigraphs to the text is taken from Yiannis Ritsos, Greek poet, leftist activist and great figure of the Greek resistance during World War II. “Yet – who knows – there, where somebody resists, hopeless / it’s maybe there, that human history begins, as we call it, / and the beauty of humanity!” (Poema 9) Is your Poema a text that combines the evident accusation with a less open vein of resistance? What is its value and intention? 

GH: Sure, my Poema dell’esilio is a text of denunciation, of accusation and resistance. Besides that work, soon in Italy the volume Il “genocidio”della poesia albanese" (The Genocide of Albanian Poetry) will be published. It is a choral story denouncing the massacre of poets from 1920 to 1989, in Albania, but also in the Soviet Union, China, Poland, Romania, Kosovo and Serbia. These are two works traversing Albanian history and mirroring the past and present of the country. They tell the hidden reality of the country, what has happened during the Stalinist regime and during the post-communist governments of Fatos Nano and Sali Berisha. They tell the Albanian tragedy, of the tortures, and of the prisons. They give the names of those who condemned, convicted and shot my colleagues along with a large part of the Albanian population. Enver Hoxha’s regime ruled from 1944 to 1990. During that period 40,000 people were condemned, 10,000 were shot. Two hundred intellectuals, among them poets, writers, filmmakers and musicians, have been convicted, shot or hanged. 10,000 children were sent to jail, as were almost 6,000 women, including those coming from other countries and who, during the ‘60s, had married Albanian men abroad during studies or travels. Both Poema and Il “genocidio” denounce this reality, one that has remained hidden. Poema in particular is an open work, published twice already. I’m now working on the extended third version of it. It’s a very significant form of personal resistance to the Albanian political and cultural status quo; this is because, as a poet, I have a great responsibility towards readers and future generations. There are no leftist or rightist poets; there are only good or bad poets. A true poet lives outside of any hierarchy, doesn’t accept compromises and exchange of favors, he always tells the truth and he is always intellectually honest in front of the blank page. A poet writes for those who will come, as the ancients wrote for us. A good poet must become the spokesperson of their people, and must choose the people as their own interlocutor, in order to contribute to the historical and civil life. True art is always a counter-power, a form of resistance, because it’s responsible in front of history and the world(s). 

AP: The accusations in Poema raise national political, cultural, social and humanitarian questions, while depicting Albania in its relations with the world. A sharp feeling of belonging to the European culture emerges from your poetry, as well as the need to make Albania visible to the political and cultural world after the long isolation of the nation during the communist regime. The need for a dialogue with Europe, so often called for, seems to constitute a political, social and cultural hope for the country. The Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union was signed in 2006, entered into force in 2009, and the process of integration is moving forward. Do you see Europe as the hope for a change in Albania? 

GH: I don’t deny hope; somebody who critiques and denounces is somebody who loves. My relationship with my motherland is made of hate and love, which is an articulation of opposites characterizing much of the world literature. We don’t have to lose our hope. I myself don’t lose it; quite the opposite, I have plenty. Whoever critiques a country also loves it, and a country that accepts critiques shows its democracy. From this point of view the political, social, cultural and spiritual reality of the country leaves much to be desired. Why? Because twenty years have passed since the fall of the regime and the Albanian parliament has never recognized the terror of Hoxha’s dictatorship as a crime against humanity. Post-communist Albania continues to hide the dossiers. Ten thousand people were shot during the communist terror and it’s not known where their remains are. We don’t know why they were condemned - there were no trials - and who gave the orders. The public administration, the political parties and the entire political, economic, social and cultural life of the country is still in the hands of the functionaries of the old regime. Material goods have not been returned to the former owners, and there is not even a law to compensate people dispossessed of their properties, while a state of right is based on private property. There is no healing in Albania; wounds are still open. 

My strong position and my love-hate for Albania were born from all that. We must address those issues if we want to talk about hope. We have to reaffirm justice, otherwise no new democratic and pluralist path can be forged. We cannot create a better future and we cannot educate future generations if we don’t face the historical truth of the country. Albania must come to terms with its past through a profound and serious self-criticism, as Germany – a civil country – has done. The process of integration in Europe can help with that; it can lead the country to face its crimes. So far, however, we don’t see results. 

AP: Your exile, due to your firm position against this historical-political situation in Albania, is nevertheless a cipher that detaches your writing from the national particularities and puts it in communication with the international literature of other exiles. Among your books I see Dante, Salman Rushdie, Nazim Hikmet. Do you identify with a tradition of exiled writers who inspire you, to whom you feel close in terms of style, experience, sorrow, and denunciation? Or do you rather, as you provocatively write in one of your verses, “hate the race of exiled poets”? (Poema 51)

GH: Certainly the exilic literary tradition is a great one. T.S. Eliot would say that we all are exiles because all of us, for different reasons, have been banished from a land, from a language, from a culture, from our borders. It’s a perennial existential condition, characterizing humanity since forever. A poet like me belongs to the exilic literary tradition. Exiles live inside the human sorrow. This is also the tradition of the Western culture. A poet writes for future generations, for eternity and for humankind. Why does a poet feel always an exile? Because he dreams of a better society, a more human one, based on social justice, on fraternity between peoples and cultures. Good poets always make themselves the intermediaries between cultures. That’s why my work is a continuation of others’ works; it begins where my predecessors left off. I harbor immense esteem for exilic poets, who are symbols of the cultures of the worlds, who inspired and continue to inspire entire generations to a better life – a more pacific, human and tolerant one. They teach everybody how to be exiles and migrants, in order to share future and destiny. 

AP: In Poema dell’esilo the Albanian Fan Noli is the exile who makes Albania participate in the international literature of exile. Expatriate to the United States, Noli is a culturally and politically central figure to the construction of Albanian national identity and of the nation itself, becoming prime minister in 1924. Writer, politician, historian, founder of the Albanian Orthodox Church, just to mention a few of the fields where he left a mark, Noli emerges from your pages as a direct predecessor to your intellectual and political engagement.  

GH: Fan Noli is the first president of the democratic Albania, he is a great man of culture and politics, a great visionary and a great modern figure, a brilliant linguist and reader. Student at Harvard, translator of the great European classics such as Baudelaire, Cervantes and Shakespeare, he is one of the most brilliant minds of 20th Century Europe. He was a politician, historian, linguist, translator, critic, and musicologist. He is one of the founding fathers of modern Albania. He becomes a priest in order to serve the cause of the nation when Albania finds itself in the obscurantism of the puppet king Zog. Exiled in the United States, he becomes the organizer of the Albanian diaspora in New York City and Boston, and that diaspora preserves the Albanian memory while shaping the national culture. Those men would represent Albania in Europe, men full of ideals and desire for a free, modern, and civil Albania. They certainly are exemplary figures to me. The history of Albanian poetry and literature has always been done by exiles, dissidents and migrants, by the so-called enemies of the nation, and by traitors that Albanian has always devoured as Medea did in ancient Greece. Albania is a stepmother to its intellectuals, who are banished and forced to live outside the borders of their language. 

AP: The Albanian diaspora of the 1930s, to which Noli belongs, was followed by another diaspora, during the 1990s, as a consequence of the fall of the Communist regime. Many Albanian writers emigrated in the last twenty years, moving to Italy, Europe and the US. What is your real and affective relationship to the community of Albanian writers in the world? Do you feel alone in your denunciation of national crimes? 

GH: Obviously after the fall of the regime my fellow citizens had the opportunity to migrate, to travel, to cross different worlds, to live other realities. And this is certainly a continuation of the diasporic Albanian literature. There are young writers who have written novels and collections, and so much the better: they are important voices, they are needed. I don’t feel I have much to share with many of them, either in terms of style or politics. Nonetheless, each of us brings his own imprint and leaves his own mark on contemporary literature. Then time will select, promote and historicize. 

AP: I would like to move the attention from the Albanian diaspora to those intellectuals who did not leave Albania. This is because a large part of the invective in your Poema dell’esilio addresses them, many of whom wrote first in support of the dictatorship and then became supporters of the new system. What is the intellectuals’ role vis-à-vis the Albanian national culture? 

GH: The intellectual who criticizes, who denounces and refuses to undergo compromises, who doesn’t belong to the court, is still considered a traitor, an enemy of Albania. This kind of intellectual is obscured, cynically ignored, and condemned to silence. Where in the past independent intellectuals were condemned and sent to prison, today another form of condemnation is in place: the moral one, the silent one. And therefore we leave, and it’s better that way; in the end, if the world advanced it is because people – intellectuals and citizens – fought in the name of a greater ethics. We should all be in exile. This is the right historical and political moment to go into exile – not just in Albania, but in many parts of the world. It’s a good historical moment to choose to protest, to oppose the many inhuman social systems, and to live in a state of intellectual ethics. When the latter is lacking, the way is paved for corruption and malpractice. In Albania, many men of culture became slaves to the court of power. Of course, there are critical voices there too, but they have their hands tied because all the newspapers and means of information are linked to the political clans. 

AP: Did they agree to a compromise? 

GH: Yes, because taking a position as I did has a great cost. No one can be that degree of rebel and work for the government’s newspapers and means of communication. I don’t know any other Albanian colleague of mine who paid as I paid for having said the truth as I said it. My position is not heroism, but as I already said, it is for a sense of responsibility towards the future, otherwise it would not make sense. 

AP: When you talk about intellectuals, you mean academic researchers too, is that right? What is the role of universities in the investigation of historical and political responsibilities? 

GH: Well, it will take at least thirty years! Deans and professors in Albanian universities are all connected to political parties, either as militants, or as friends or partners of politicians and their mafia connections! It’s useless to deny that, we have to say things as they are! Albanian universities are the most corrupted in the world; degrees are sold and bought like potatoes! This has been the case for Renzo Bossi, son of Umberto Bossi (former-president of the Italian political party Lega Nord), who last year bought his degree in Tirana, from the Kristal University! In Albania, corruption reigns. Everything has to be redone from scratch. A lack of global perspective, a lack of knowledge of European traditions, a lack of ethics and intellectual honesty are the root cause of the Albanian chaos and confusion. 

AP: Your critique doesn’t spare the Albanian people, who don’t seem to be critical of the political situation, but rather appear dazzled by new consumerism and new forms of moneymaking. At the same time, many passages of your poetry prove to be very empathic with the humiliated, the offended, and the migrant people. What is your relationship to the Albanian people? 

GH: I write for the people! Not for the readers, but for the people. I write not to be believed, but to talk to the future generations. I’m the last heir of a descent of rhapsodies from the North of Albanian and their epic tradition. The people conserved the Albanian spirit. And my Albania is neither the present one, nor Enver Hoxha’s communist one; it is rather the ancient Arbëria. I sing of a mythical Albania, the one of the great fathers of the Albanian rebirth, the great poets and mystical figures, the besa and legends, the great oral lyric tradition. This is the Albania that lives in me, which I constructed in me and in my work. I gave it a shape, a soul, a face, and a spirit. The people is all of those things. 

AP: The mythical reconstruction becomes increasingly evident, and reaches its peak in your last work Nûr; Eresia e Besa. It must be clarified though that your return to the mythical Albania is not a distance from the historical reality; it is rather an epic traversing of the nation’s political and social history. 

GH: Absolutely! All my experience is a clear example of that. My life is an intense social, political, and intellectual crossing. I graduated first in Albanian language and literature, then in modern literature from the university La Sapienza of Rome, and I never received a scholarship. I worked as a laborer for twelve years both in Albania and Italy. I have done all kind of jobs. I chose political engagement as one of the founders of the democratic and republican parties in Albania. I was the general secretary of the party, and candidate to the parliament in the political elections in ‘92. I was a journalist. I’m a translator of the oral Albanian tradition into Italian, as well as the poetic Italian tradition into Albanian. I reconstruct the Albanian historical and cultural memory through Poema dell’esilio, and Il “genocidio”della poesia Albanese, along with a forthcoming volume collecting 1,300 slogans used by the communist party to articulate its propaganda and its terror. Soon I will publish a collection of poems of the kurbèti.(i) My life and my work cross all these dimensions and the reconstruction of the mythical Albania has its origin in this multi-part ground. My work is a human encyclopedia, where any reader in the world can find himself. My work is a surgery of the Albanian society, and my Albania symbolizes the many ‘Albanias’ in the world. I speak to the West as a man from the Balkans, while the majority of my colleagues fall into the trap of writing in the style of the host country. I try instead to blend the great tradition of the Balkans with the traditions of 20th Century Europe. My work wants to traverse many worlds, to speak with them, and to teach everybody how to be errant and migrant in order to share a future and a destiny. 

AP: Going into the structure of Poema dell’esilio, the narration proceeds in free verses while the construction of the five-line stanzas is strict. All stanzas close with a verse that I would name the “anaphor of the exile.” This last verse gives a reason for your exile and always addresses a plural audience; those whom you call “my friends.” Who are they? And how do they interact with the text? 

GH: “My friends” are those who share the mission contained in the poem; those who follow and support me; those who listen to my voice and share my rage, my preoccupation and my exile. They are those who fight with me because they are guided by the same ideals. And they also are those who will come, the future generations. “My friends” interact with the poet’s narrating voice, thanks to some single verse interposed between the five-verse stanzas. This is the chorus, like in ancient Greece, it is a collective voice, the people speaking. Few poets write epic poems because it’s a difficult genre, which requires deep ethics and universal values, great inner human resources. Moreover, it’s difficult to keep the readers’ attention for its entire length. A great commitment is required to write epic poems, and it becomes almost a life.

AP: In Poema you make a sad and painful prediction: when Albania will read this book, “beasts” will tear you to pieces. How was this work in particular, and your poetry in general, received by the Albanian intellectual and political world? 

GH: My works have been ignored in Albania, they have never been presented, even though I am the major Albanian poet alive and among the most important contemporary poets. In a time span of almost fifty years I was never invited to present my work, to promote it, and not even for a simple reading of it. That happened because I didn’t accept compromises, and I denounced the widespread corruption in the country. The political and cultural mafia of Tirana cynically ignored me. I don’t have interlocutors in Albania. My interlocutors will be the migrants and other Albanians to come, because in Albania even the readers are indoctrinated, educated according to the models of the realist socialism. Moreover, they are taken by the fever of accumulation of wealth. They are readers without readings, without cultural crossings, to whom my work remains incomprehensible. 

AP: What is the duty of poetry? 

GH: My poetry wants to be bursting, an epic, tragic, and dramatic poetry. Words must use all their power. I come from a long epic tradition in the North of Albania. My ancestors were singers of rhapsody and produced a vast cultural patrimony. One of the missions or battles is to give back life to the words, recovering the epic and the music that modern poetry has lost in as it has become so minimalist. Modern poetry sings of small phobias, of little angels, the moon making-up, the garden fence, the door phone. It’s a sterile, stuttering, academic poetry, which says nothing. They are not poets, but writers of poems. On this matter our paths separate. I call them eunuchs, castrates, poets closed off in their small studios, who look at the world through their glasses, who don’t have anything to say, sedentary poets, employees passing themselves off as poets, exchanging favors and literary prizes. In the past writers like Pier Paolo Pasolini, Giorgio Caproni, and Cesare Pavese were the editors of the big publishing houses. Now we have these little employees, who condition the literary life, the literary prizes. They damage the Italian cultural life, creating confusion, denigrating true literary values, and isolating the official Italian literature from new voices. A poet must make of his own poetry a human encyclopedia, he must encounter new readers across the world, and sing of each vibration of the self. As Horace would say, a poet who doesn’t drink wine cannot write beautiful poems. I drink the wine of life. 

AP: Poema dell’esilio often uses images of outraged corporality: the mutilated bodies of the regime opponents, the gaunt suffering body of the poet, the dead bodies of the migrants crossing the marine borders, the body of the nation raped by the savage construction industry. The body is an overarching theme to all your poetry. In your collection Corpo presente (Present Body), the body appears like the only place of identity. What does the body become in a condition of exile, of your exile? 

GH: My body is a collective body, a people-body, an exiled and wandering body. My body has a thousand forms, a thousand eyes, a thousand mouths. It sings and vibrates, it dies in order to be born again in many other lives. It’s a body that becomes lute and word. It becomes a mystery. In this exile my body is my country and my identity, my motherland, my Albania. I am Albania and I am the world because everything lives in me. As I say in my poetry, every day I build a new homeland in which I die and come back to life. And even language becomes a homeland, a double language in my case. My poetry inhabits the space of a constant linguistic migration between Italian and Albanian. This is the only way to defeat the rhetoric of a chauvinist nationalism. When we violently underline our roots we end up putting ourselves against the others. This doesn’t mean that I deny the value of belonging! I am Albanian. However these are boundaries that exist in order to be overstepped the very moment we put them in place. We must be always guests, travelers in the footsteps of Abraham more than Ulysses. We must be Gilgamesh, who more than 2,900 years ago, obsessed with the meaning of existence and of life and death, set off and traveled the world.  

AP: You just mentioned the value of language as a homeland, and this ties in to your particular bilingualism that you discussed on other occasions. The essay collection Poesia dell’esilio: saggi su Gëzim Hajdari edited by Andrea Gazzoni extensively analyses your double writing in Italian and Albanian. What you have never discussed is the value of translation in your experience of exiled intellectual. Translation is progressively having more space in your production.  

GH: We fall in love with languages like we do with people. I’m a polygamous poet. I’m in love with two languages, Albanian and Italian, and I contemporaneously write in both on them. Italian is a great language, which I adore because it gave me its musicality. Albanian is a sour language, made of tragic and dramatic sounds. It is majestic and rocky, extremely beautiful, full of sounds, which make the learning of other languages very easy. The destiny and fatality of the Albanian tradition – a country constantly at war – are transported into the Italian language, which nourishes my poetry with its musicality, and softens the verses to create a harmonious whole. Then translation: translation is part of my multiform intellectual mission, namely my poetry, my books of travels to the Asian South-East and conflict-torn Africa, my lessons in universities across the world, my essays, my interviews, my correspondence of 20,000 letters with intellectuals, and my contribution to the construction of a small school in the South of Uganda. I translate Italian literature into Albanian and Albanian literature into Italian, as I’m doing with the poems of kurbèt and as I did with the poems of the nizàmii.(ii) Besides that, I deal with the poetic Philippine tradition, translating Gémino Abad’s works from English into Italian. With the help of an Arabic translator, I worked on the work of Abu al-Qassim al-Shabbi, the major Tunisian poet. Translation means to share something with others, and means participating in the building of a more just, more humane and more tolerant society. Through translation, cultures and peoples engage in a dialogue; the center moves towards the periphery and vice versa. Translation breaks free from Western domination, and its desire for intellectual leadership. Moreover, in this century, which is the century of the exile, civil death reigns everywhere. Safety comes from men and women who don’t accept compromises, and who choose to denounce crimes. The West is made of flat and painless countries, where nothing more is there to be said. Their mission is expired. Safety and renovation, both in poetry and human existence, come from abroad, from those worlds that preserve oral traditions. Africa, South America, and the Balkans are the worlds, which will bring some freshness to the Western societies and their literatures. 

AP: Your experience in Italy has not been an easy one. You encountered housing and job-related difficulties, and time was needed to be recognized as an intellectual. What is your Italian story, which is now turning twenty? 

GH: Italy is a great civilization in a small nation, Dostoevsky would say. It’s a civilization which was the midpoint of the world, but which is not making history anymore. Italy is a country that feeds itself with its own past, its own history, a country imprisoned in its own body. Other European countries make relevant positions available to people of different nationalities, something that in Italy is not happening yet. That means missing the vision of the future. Italy is a difficult place for intellectuals, too, because there are no economic benefits or scholarships to study abroad for them. My colleagues in Germany, England, and Canada have many more possibilities. Despite that, all my investment is in Italy. I write in Italian, my editors and the scholars studying my work are Italian, even when I am working or researching abroad. Italy was a chance for me, but not by chance. Now I consider migrating again, to France this time, to Paris. France is the country where my work is studied the most, after Italy, and where I give lessons and attend conferences. 

AP: A verse in Poema dell’esilio renders the image of you getting old in exile. Is a return to Albania possible? Under what conditions? 

GH: It’s Albania that has to come back to me. I’m already in Albania. I am Albania and its poet. My true homeland is my language and my body. A poet lives the dimension of death every day. Poets were born to die abroad. There is no going back, only a departure. Ulysses goes back, I don’t. To return is to die. We must be perennial travelers. Condemnation and exile is what creates the word. To return means death, provincialism, and myopia. We only leave, there is no return. 

An extract from Poema dell’esilio/Poema e mërgimit. 
Translation by Valbona Ajdari and Anita Pinzi

I have contributed to the fall of the Albanian dictatorship
and to the democratic reconstruction of the homeland
in aspiration to freedom and its beauty, but the victor was yesterday’s nomenklatura, which is smeared with blood and state crimes. 
This is why I am in exile, my friends. 
After the tragic fall of Democracy,
I was obliged to abandon my homeland on a rainy night
without a proper handshake or a goodbye,
so with a lurking shadow of death, I fled.
This is why I am lost in exile, my friends. 
“Alas, djemtë e shqipes,(1) thousands are fleeing!  We are in woe of your fate! Woe for you!”
My only fault has been to not compromise,
because I denounce criminal abuses of the old regime,
as well as those of the new regime of B.(2),
in the local and national press. 
This is why I am happy in exile, my friends. 
B. sold the wealth of the nation, or better yet, the people’s wealth, to traffickers and the mafia in exchange for little money
and the ordering of a disposal of any record of these
shameful acts, openly legalizing theft and dismemberment of the homeland. 
This is why I adore exile, my friends. 
Former President Alia,(3) in 1991, approved the law of 7501 which distributes the land to Albanian farmers, according to the number of family members per household.
B. revived this controversial law under Alia, dispersing land and property rights to random villagers, while former landowners were left with nothing. 
This is why I survive in exile, my friends. 
N.’s(4) and B.’s governments allowed secret foreign prisons on Albanian territory, where foreign agents tortured foreign citizens, violating human rights. 
Similar prisons were later found in Kosovo. In Albania lie the most gruesome secrets of modern day Europe. Tirana’s political criminals are not to be trusted!
This is why I cannot exile from exile, my friends. 
Ultimately, it was America and England that fostered the birth of Hoxha’s dictatorship in my homeland, as archival documents prove.
These so-called allies, attached at the hips, also helped divide Albanian territory into zones of influence, for Albanians easily bend over when they are told.
This is why I correspond with exile, my friends. 
Albania sent her troops to Iraq, only to lose them in a dirty war. 
It is those who create the “Saddams” of the world, who also arm them and trade with them, but then turn around and claim to the rest of us that they are awful dictators! To justify these claims, they create conflicts amongst their people and cry “democracy” for the world!
This is why I feel the bell rings in exile, my friends. 
Only F. Lubonja(5) has publicly criticized the dirty war in Iraq and B. Mustafaj(6) has expressed concern over the parliament’s refinancing connection to the mission of the Albanian troops in Baghdad. But no one has listened to either. Their voices fell on deaf ears. What can we expect from a people that for sixteen years has had no running water, no bread, no electricity, and remains fearful to protest?
This is why I reflect in exile, my friends. 
Many speak about opening the dossiers of Tirana’s politicians.
But who will open them? The very ones who created them?
Democrats and socialists have opened and closed these dossiers to their liking, leaving a few of them as bait for blackmail. 
This is why I reprove in exile, my friends. 
What is to be said about the Washington based radio station “Voice Of America” interviewing only devout followers and infantry members of Enver’s dictatorship, but never the likes of Kasëm Trebeshina(7)? Unbelievable! This is another piece of the Albanian mystery. The executioners under Hoxha’s dictatorship later became the victims of execution. 
This is why I doubt in exile, my friends. 
The past does not interest anyone; neither justice, nor the government. My fellow citizens, it’s as though the past horror of Spaç and Burrel(8) have never happened. Nothing is honored. 
Our youth must know about these crimes committed against humanity, and how they can contribute to the formation of a democratic state with civil rights intact. 
This is why I never forget in exile, my friends. 
It is not his [Hoxha’s] work that made him a pseudo-sanctuary, but rather, the lure of a tyrant. Albanians, after a dictator’s death, cannot live without tyrants. L. Myftiu, F. Lubonja, K. Miftari, E. Tase, P. Kolevica, A. Klosi, I. Jubica, R. Elsie, A. Dule, S. Fetiu, H. Ibrahimi are all aware of a sickening love for Enverian tyranny. Albanian people will give their lives to tyranny!
This is why I am alarmed in exile, my friends. 
Not to mention Musine Kokalari who spent twenty years in prison and twenty more in a concentration camp. 
Miss Kokalari left Rome in the 1930’s, where she graduated from “La Sapienza,” to help her country. She was a writer and founder of the Socio-Democratic Party. 
This prominent woman of Albania was captured and jailed by the claws of tyranny. 
This is why I see beyond in exile, my friends. 
Kokalari died alone in a concentration camp. Ill, she was denied admission to the hospital, and labeled an “enemy of the state!” The law prohibited anyone to help Musine. 
They buried her with a blood-stained fertilizer cart. When her relatives exhumed her, they found her hands and feet tied with barbed wire. Musine Kokalari committed no crime, only the crime of love for culture. 
This is why I decided to trade my homeland for exile, my friends. 
I recall something in 1997: some criminals from Lushnje entered the cafes of the city holding the head of a young man in their hands. Kicking it back and forth, they would open the mouth and pour grappa in it, laughing!
I shall never forget the face of that severed head, as I imagined it my own, where to this day my skin crawls at the thought. 
This is why I migrate from exile to exile, my friends. 
“Who will execute our sons përmatanë?(9) Who shall wash their bodies for the last time?”
In Albania, 120 public factories, from the 1970’s to the present, use radioactive material that endangers the lives of its citizens. Imported food and beverages are never inspected. 
My fellow citizens still living in Albania are swollen;
their ill-health is due to harmful hormonally induced food. 
This is why I dig trenches in exile, my friends. 
Alas, my Albania! A harsh fate awaits you. Horrific scenes take place, using your martyred body as its stage. 
My country engaged in a civil war with a division between the north and the south. Only a government of national unity could save it! The only future for you is this: 
A great family member of the European Union. 
This is why I correspond from exile, my friends. 
Tragedy has plagued my people, Jeremiah!
I never would have imagined that one day, I too, would experience the tragedy of your fate!
How ironic is my fate, having to spend my days in exile, 
locked up in an empty room. 
This is why I count the raindrops in exile, my friends. 
Prepare the pillory of shame, raise the gallows, burn the stakes, stone me to death. I am ready for lynching. I am in your hands. 
Laws exist because of you. Jailers, open my door cell!
Oppressors, punish me!
This is why exile does not forgive me, my friends!

(i) Kurbèt are Albanian migrants. The Kurbèt poetic tradition includes the lyrics of the arbërèshë (Ethnic Albanians in Italy, who emigrated to the south of the country during the 16th Century). The recurrent themes are the forced separation from the land of their ancestors, the journey across the sea, and the distance from and nostalgia for the lost motherland.
(ii) Hajdari, G. I canti del nizàm. Nardò (BA): Besa Editrice, 2012. Nizàm refers to the oral lyrics of the mothers, sisters and wives of the Albanian soldiers who fought in defense of the Ottoman Empire. 
(1) Sons of Albania
(2) Sali Ram Berisha, President of Albania from 1992 to 1997 and Albanian prime minister since 2005.
(3) Ramiz Tafë Alia, last communist leader, designated as successor to dictator Enver Hoxha. He was head of state from 1982 to 1992. 
(4) Fatos Thanas Nano, founder and leader of the Albanian Socialist party, several times in office as Prime Minister of Albania.
(5) Fatos Lubonja, Albanian writer and dissident, he was arrested for his critique to Hoxha’s regime, and released after seventeen years of prison, in 1991. He edits the literary journal Përpjekja (Endeavour) in Tirana.
(6) Besnik Bajram Mustafaj, Albanian writer and diplomat, former Albanian ambassador to France. He served as foreign minister from 2005 to 2007 when he resigned for his disagreement with Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
(7) Kasëm Trebeshina, Albanian writer and dissident, he was proclaimed by the regime as a madman and jailed for seventeen years. Since 1997 he has lived in Istanbul. 
(8) The two worst Albanian prisons, where political prisoners were jailed. 
(9) On the other side, across the Adriatic Sea. 

Anita Pinzi is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature and Italian Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). She deals with Migration Literature, Bilingualism, Postcolonialism, Mediterranean Studies, and Theory of the Body. She teaches Italian Language and Literature at Hunter College and Queens College in NYC. She is writing her dissertation on Contemporary Albanian-Italian Literature. 
Valbona Ajdari is currently a senior at Hunter College, City University of New York pursuing a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree with a focus in Filmmaking. Her maininterests lie in writing and directing. Valbona is presently working on a short film project entitled, “My Axiom”, which she has written and will also direct.