Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Love is a very long word - Majlinda Bashllari (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Love is a very long word.  Majlinda Bashllari.  Guernica Editions.  Essential Poets 233.  Toronto - Buffalo - Lancaster (U.K.).  2016.

What joy.  Majlinda Bashllari's Love is a very long word was such a pleasure to read that it snapped me out of a poetry funk.  Today's book of poetry had been wallowing in a deep trough of poetic despair and displeasure as a couple of books I'd set aside with pleasure soured when I returned.  It happens from time to time.  Not so with Love is a very long word.

These poems are immediately accessible and still full of mystery.  There's passion from a woman's point of view, escape stories, poems about family and so on.  The subject matter is far less important than the way Bashllari wraps you around her fingers and has her way with you.  The reader is happy inside these poems because Bashllari knows the secret languages of intimacy.

Cropped Images

There's nothing on the first pages of this family photo album.
Neither pictures nor paintings of the great grandparents who
were supposed to be shown here. They didn't know anything
about photography. They used each other's eyes to record
their memories.

Light is absorbed into these black empty spots and cannot
get reflected back. They're all soldiers of the same blood and
flesh army, dead or alive, silent and often forgotten. From
time to time we make a stop at these imaginary graves
wondering which one of us resembles them.

Here comes another generation: the recently departed
grandparents, uncles, aunts, rich and poor cousins, with their
own stories frozen in celluloid.

Once the daylight touches their eyes, faces start to revive.
They sigh, smile and look for their dearest ones in the crowd.

What happened to you, they say, what happened to me ... that
day, that night, that moment ... They get sad and stare: Please,
send us back, we want to be somnambulists. Don't wake us up.

I skip pages, coming close to the living empire: adults with
our own children, who know little about growing up.

We are not done with our time yet. There are battles to win,
at least arguments. We take pictures of every event, happy
pictures if possible. Although not sure we are happy, we need
to leave physical evidence of supposed happiness behind.
Somehow we remain idealists who love everything material.

Faces, gestures often surrounded by suspicious blurs taken
between invisible moments. Unnoticed moments, like
heartbeats; once important but never to be displayed again,
powerless to weaken our unique talent for pretending.


Love is a very long word is Majlinda Bashllari's first book of poetry in English.  Let me repeat that astonishing remark.  Love is a very long word is Majlinda Bashllari's first book of poetry in English. But ten years ago Bashllari published Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home) (Morava, 2007), in Tirana, Albania.

It's beyond astonishing that Bashllari is now writing poems in English as though she invented the language.  Love is a very long word is nuanced and considered poetry that feels like a conversation in that dream you can't forget.


Mira wanted him, and when nobody was around,
she trembled and whispered gibberish mostly
and begged him to touch her.
It was not her fault she never knew the taste
of being loved. With one leg shorter than the other,
she's always been invisible to men.
Turning forty wouldn't make her any prettier,
she knew that.

He was her brother's best friend,
who else would treat her right ...
The man got straight to the point:
--Girl, you're like my sister, this may kill us both ...
--Nobody will know, she murmured,
looking at her good leg.
Then he held her gently in his arms,
kissed her on the neck, thinking of the money
he'd borrowed from her brother ...
She blushed, burst into tears
and he couldn't tell what was uglier,
her face or his performance.
Between her thighs, he forgot everything:
his wife, the loan, the lousy life.

Later, in bed alone, she cried,
as she pictured him leaving,
limping on his healthy legs.


The Today's book of poetry minions were in fine form today once I got them inside from shovelling. In the last seventy-two hours Ottawa has had seventeen feet of snow.  That's an alternative fact. Shovelling will tire the rebelliousness right out of a pesky intern or editor.

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, remarked on the strength of the speaker in these poems, how resilient.  Milo felt that there was a low hum of resigned melancholy under the poems.  Today's book of poetry agreed with both of my loyal staff -- but we'd tell the reader to look around for the hope in these poems.  We're convinced Majlinda Bashllari is an optimist, too experienced to have any notion of unbroken happiness, but full of hope in the face of reason.

Natural Woman Made In The Balkans

On nights that are neither moon nor wolf, I want my man
over me like a bat that holds a lit-up chandelier in his wings.

Almost blind, he tries to reach the last hearth-fire ... Why me,
I breathe in his mouth, dying to hear again that all other girls
in the town seem like sisters to him.

Quiet, but hot, blind but hungry, we both take off across the
darkness. On nights that are neither of wolf nor moon.

When he falls asleep, I uncover the sweaty hair from my eye
and watch beyond his shoulder, to make sure no sisters come
out of the dark.


Today's book of poetry liked every single thing about this powerhouse.  Today's book of poetry liked Majlinda Bashllari's Love is a very long word so much that we now want to learn Albanian and find a copy of Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home).  It must be a stunner, this one certainly is.

Majlinda Bashllari
Majlinda Bashllari

Born in Albania, Majlinda Bashllari’s first poetry collection, Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home), was published in Tirana, Albania (Morava, 2007). Bashllari’s work has appeared in numerous Albanian art and literature magazines and in Albanian anthologies of essays and short stories. Love is a very long word is her first English-language collection of poems. She lives with her family in Toronto.

With their cultural roots in Albania, the poems in Love is a very long word are distinct in welcome ways from almost anything else in Canadian literature. Laconic and edged with sharp wit, they engage the necessary courage and strength of character to transform the often bleak, thwarted and alienated experiences which they recount into art of the finest, most valid sort: uncompromising, imaginative, and deeply true to life. 
     - Allan Briesmaste

Love is a very long word - Book Trailor
Video: Guernica Editions



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