Xhevahir Spahiu
(Albania, 1945)   
Xhevahir Spahiu

Xhevahir Spahiu was born in Malind, a village in the district of Skrapari, Albania. He studied Albanian literature at the University of Tirana, from which he graduated in 1967. He has since worked as a journalist, teacher, publisher, poet and playwright.

In 1993 he became secretary of the Albanian Artists’ and Writers’ Association, whose president he has been since 1998.

For the decades of repression and hardship under totalitarian rule – and, perhaps, his own position in this – Xhevahir Spahiu feels it is his duty to atone. He believes he has failed, as well as being wronged himself. He says so in his poem ‘Borxhet e mia’ (‘My Debts’), in which he speaks not only to his loved ones and closest relatives but also to former, long-dead generations.

Spahiu’s poem ‘Fjala’ (‘The Word’) appears to reflect the sense of futility experienced by many Albanians after receiving their long-craved freedom of expression. Freedom of expression – especiallythe lack of it – has played a role in Spahiu’s own life as a poet. In 1979 his collection Zgjimi i thellësive (‘Awakening of the Depths’) was seized immediately after publication and shredded.

Spahiu often resorts to the mythical past, for instance when he revives the figure of Constantine (Kostandin in Albanian) in ‘still travelling after death’. This legendary medieval figure rises from the grave to retrieve his sister Doruntina from a distant country. The legend of Constantine also plays a central part in Kadare’s Who Brought Doruntina?

Spahiu’s somewhat pessimistic outlook is also apparent in ‘Nata e shiut të ngjethur’ (‘Night of Horrifying Rain’). It is not the night of peace and quiet, but the dark, doom-laden night in and around ourselves which threatens to destroy all we hold dear.

Once in a while, as during the interplanetary or even interstellar telephone conversation in ‘Kometa Hallej’ (‘Halley’s Comet’) we catch a glimpse of irony, of humour, but never strong enough to relieve the pervasive mood of loneliness and desolation. As if the poet feels himself abandoned, not only by his fellow humans, but by nature, by the cosmos. It is this mood which dominates in ‘Përmbysje’ (‘Overthrown’), a short poem in which the seagull, white against a background of ‘biblical blue’ symbolizes the poet’s rebellion against the ‘monochromatism’, i.e. the uniformity of the totalitarian state. ‘In my mind live / all the colours of the endless universe.’

Somewhat more optimistic in tone is ‘Udhëtimet e mia’ (‘My Travels’), in which the poet seems to be disengaging himself from the past and turning his mind to the future.

Xhevahir Spahiu has won several literary awards, in Albania and abroad. Many of his poems have appeared in translation.

© Roel Schuyt (Translated by Ko Kooman)

[Xhevahir Spahiu took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]



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