Poets from Albania and Belfast

NDREK GJINI began attending the University of Shkoder in his native Albania in 1984 when the country’s ageing ultra-Stalinist dictator, Enver Hoxha, was still organising lavish pageants in honour of himself.

Ndrek is currently completing an MA in writing in the hopefully somewhat more liberal atmosphere of NUI Galway. The title of his new book The Death Of Night (EMAL ), combined with its severe, funereal cover, lead the reader to expect exactly what Ndrek Gjini delivers: poems as dark as dark can be.

‘Closed Doors’ ends abruptly with the lines “I started to hate the closure of doors./To me they sound like coffin lids.” However, Gjini is also a very playful poet. ‘Learning difficulties’ demands to be quoted in full: “There were two years,/only two years/that I needed to learn/how to speak./However,/now another forty-five years have passed/and I am not able to learn/how to keep my mouth shut.”

The satirical stab in the last line is in many ways emblematic of Gjini’s poetry. Proof positive of his seriousness as a poet is his ability to laugh at himself. This wit is also applied to the world outside himself, as in ‘GM Products’: “When all is said and done,/one thing still bothers me:/are we eating this food/or is this food eating us?”

Ndrek Gjini uses words sparingly, but his poems have a lot to say to us. A collection full of surprising joys.

I first met Lorna Shaughnessy back in autumn 2003 when she phoned and asked if I would take a look at some of the poems she had been writing. Witness Trees is Lorna’s second collection from Salmon Poetry; her debut Torching the Brown River was published three years ago.

Every word has clearly been weighed and considered. Lorna is brave and versatile in terms of the subject matter she tackles.

‘Safe Landing’ is an imaginative poem about Alcock and Brown’s first transatlantic flight. Lorna appears to have no difficulty at all imagining her way into situations she has not actually experienced.

‘The Moon Is No Door’ is an incredibly brave poem about the experience of chemotherapy: “Caught in a tunnel of fear she slowly crawled/into the darkest corners of disease – / like Sylvia’s moon she was turning wild and bald.”

The Sylvia referred to is Sylvia Plath, but the poem has a positive outcome as the narrator turns “her back on the moon, so wild and bald/to hear the voices of her children call.” The strict Villanelle form of the poem is the perfect container for the emotions that rage within it.

The centrepiece of the collection is a devastating sequence titled ‘Belfast Obituaries’, which concludes with two lines taken from the suicide note of loyalist paramilitary who killed himself on release from jail in 1998: “I’m tired. I’ve decided/to bring this to an end.”

If there is any justice, Witness Trees should win awards.

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