Ani Gjika

Negative Space, by Ani Gjika translated from the Albanian by Luljeta Lleshanaku

Griffin Poetry Prize 2019
International Shortlist

Book: Negative Space

Translator: Ani Gjika

Poet: Luljeta Lleshanaku

Publisher: Bloodaxe Books

Click here to read an excerpt.


Ani Gjika

Ani Gjika is an Albanian-born poet, literary translator and writer. Her book Bread on Running Waters (2013) was a finalist for the 2011 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, and the 2011 May Sarton New Hampshire Book Prize. Gjika moved to the US when she was 18, earning an MA in English at Simmons College, and an MFA in poetry at Boston University. Her honours include awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, English PEN Translates, Framingham State University’s Miriam Levine Award, and the Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize.

Luljeta Lleshanaku

Luljeta Lleshanaku was born in Elbasan, Albania. She is the author of seven books of poetry in Albanian. Book length translations of her work into other languages include Antipastoral (Italy, 2006), Kinder der natur (Austria, 2010), Dzieci natury (Poland, 2011), and Lunes en Siete Dias (Spain, 2017). She has won several prestigious awards for her poetry, including PEN Albania 2016, and the International Kristal Vilenica Prize in 2009. In 2012 she was one of two finalists in Poland for their European Poet of Freedom Prize.

Judges’ Citation

“With a lesser known original language, the more precious the gift of translation! Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Negative Space offers a rare glimpse into contemporary Albanian poetry. Effortlessly and with crisp precision, Ani Gjika, herself a poet, has rendered into English, not only the poems in Negative Space, but also the eerie ambience which resonates throughout the book, the deep sense of impermanence that is one of the many consequences of growing up under severe political oppression. ‘Negative space is always fertile.’ Opening trauma’s door, we’re met by a tender and intelligent voice with stories illuminating existence in a shared humanity, thus restoring dignity. In a world fractured by terror and violence, Lleshanaku’s poetry is infinitely exciting, soothing us, its citizens.”

Almost Yesterday

Strangers are building a new house next door.
They shout, swear, cheer.
Hammers and a bustle of arms.
They whistle melodies
bookended by hiccups.

Their large window opens to the east.
A lazy boy in sandals
drags a bucket of water half his size.
The world holds its breath for one moment.
The page turns.

Trucks loaded with cement
leave the symbol for infinity in the dirt.

Along the wall, a plumb line measures the height
like a medallion hanging into space
or from someone’s neck whose face
nobody bothers to look at.

They started with the barn.
This is how a new life begins –
with an axiom.

I remember my father
returning sweaty from the fields
at lunch break; he and mother
coming out of the barn
tidying their tangled hair in a hurry,
both flushed, looking around in fear
like two thieves.

Their bedroom was cool and clean
on the first floor of the house.

I still ask myself: ‘Why in the barn?’
But I also remember
that the harvest was short that year,
the livestock hungry;
we were on a budget
and switched the lights off early.

I was twelve.
My sleep deep, my curiosity numbed,
tossed carelessly to the side
like mounds of snow along the road.

But I remember the barn clearly, as if it were yesterday,
almost yesterday.
You cannot easily forget what you watch with one eye closed,
the death of the hero in the film,
or your first eclipse of the sun.

From Negative Space by Ani Gjika, translated from the Albanian by Luljeta Lleshanaku
Copyright © Luljeta Lleshanaku 2012, 2015, 2018
Translation © Ani Gjika 2018

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