Sciarrino. In your poetry collection ‘La Peligòrga’ (2007) you underline the fact that you feel marked by your Destiny of the South. What does it consist of? What is the relation between this Destiny of the South and your literary activity?
Hajdari. I feel I am a man of the South who belongs to all the Souths of the world. I carry all the wounds, the joys, the sorrows, the shouts, the shed blood, the fights, the myths, the legends, the epic, the country smells, the colours, the hospitality, the ‘besa’ (the ‘word’ of honor’ for the Albanians), the dreams and the hopes of the South. I live and I bear the South. Those who have been compelled to leave their country and live in exile, feel they are people from the South and, thus, his/her work is a song of the South. All the poets who are not tolerated by the political and cultural power both in their country and in the host country are all singers of the South. The South is not just a geographical issue, but it is a social, cultural and spiritual metaphor. Being of the South is an added value for my literary production. Being a poet of the South means to be an avant-garde poet, a poet of the future…
Sciarrino. You arrived in Italy as an exile in 1992; what has arriving in Italy meant to you: defeat or salvation?
H. My arrival in Italy has both meant defeat and salvation. It was a defeat because I was politically defeated by the post-communists who usurped power in the election of 1992. It was a salvation because I have never accepted political compromises; on the contrary, I have denounced the crimes of the Hoxha regime, the abuses, the corruption, the drug traffic and the suspicious affairs between the ‘Mafia’ and the politicians of the post-communist Albania and named names.
When I denounced all this in my book ‘Poem of the exile/Poeme e mergimit’ (Fara Publisher, first edition 2005, second revisited edition 2007), my Albanian colleagues called me an enemy of Albania. So I earned my freedom and my intellectual honesty. I can say I am amongst the few Albanian poets and intellectuals who preferred being an exile rather than becoming a servant to power, an accomplice of the political, economic, cultural and spiritual disaster of my country.
Sciarrino. You write both in Albanian and in Italian; what is your relation with both the languages you use? Which language do you prefer using? The passage from one language to the other is self-translation or re-writing?
H. I write in both languages at the same time; I write in Italian and torment myself in Albanian and vice versa. I started writing in both languages when I wrote my collection ‘Shadow of dog’/ Hije qeni’ (Dismisuratesti, 1993). I love both languages with the same passion and the same love. When I write in Albanian, the Italian language acts as a sort of guard and vice versa. Going from one language to the other is a re-creation rather than a translation.
Sciarrino. Do you prefer being defined as an Italian or Albanian poet? What do you think of Paul Celan’s opinion according to which only in the mother tongue can you tell the truth and in the foreign language you lie?
I am an Albanian and an Italian poet. I do not translate myself, I write in both languages, Albanian and Italian, at the same time. It is not a matter of bilingualism, but of a ‘double language’. My writing is a linguistic migration: coming out of a language and going into the other language.
Being outside the language of love is not delightful. Sadness has caused the artistic death of many writers and poets when they were forced into a new cultural and literary context. Many others were not able to build a new sense of belonging and a new balance and for them suicide represented a way out.
We can mention the poets from East Germany who, having moved from a totalitarian system into the consumeristic West, were unable to write and remained isolated and closed.
The same thing can be said of the poets from the former Soviet Union exiled in France. But some others like Brodskij, Milosz e Xingjian dealt with it, were successful and were even awarded the Nobel prize.
Sciarrino. What does it mean for you writing poems? Which poetic language of other poets do you prefer and think it is close to your style?
H. Writing is for me a way of being in this world. I like very much the language of the Arab and Persian mystics, of the Russian Symbolists and of the ancient Greek poets, of the Chinese and Latin classics, the great poets Aimé Césaire and Leopold Sedar Senghor.
Sciarrino. What is your relation with the Italian literature of the past and of the present?
H. As regards the Italian literature of the past, the Latin, or rather Roman, classic poetry appeals greatly to me. I can mention Virgil, Horace, Lucretius, Cato and Titus Livius.
The story of these poets is epic and touching. Not only were they epic poets, but also great travellers and philosophers. What characterizes these poets is that they sing and exalt not just individuals, but entire peoples.
As regards Italian contemporary literature, there are two kinds: an official one and an ‘irregular’ one written outside the hierarchies. The former is, generally speaking, a minimalist poetry, funereal, stammering, depressed and self referential, I would say. The authors of this type of poetry are people with power, professors, publishers, members of juries of literary prizes, critics and journalists who influence the true literary values in exchange for favours, prizes and boastful glory. So these hierarchies are based on corruption and on intellectual dishonesty in front of the white page. Every literary work is first of all a moral act. These authors are not poets, but writers of poems. Italian contemporary literature can be saved only by valorizing poetry that rebels against the system – what Italy lacks – and is open to new worlds in the name of legality and true transparency, creating a new relation between text and intellectual honesty, between the word and the truth, between the Word and the Life. In order to achieve this you need to organize debates about poetry, literary prizes, the wasting of public funds, the role of the press and the mass media, the role of the critic and cultural ethics.
Sciarrino. In 1997 you were awarded the important Montale prize; what is your relation to the poetry written by Montale?
H. Montale is the poet of ‘everyday decency’. I admire Montale a lot, and I also admire Palazzeschi, Govoni, Sbarbaro, Penna, Ungaretti, Caproni, but, above all, Dino Campana. I am constantly re-reading these poets who have made Italian and European poetry great. Montale must be read and appreciated in this literary context.
Sciarrino. Which Albanian poets have influenced you? Which foreign poets, apart from the Italians, do you love reading?
H. I owe everything to the Albanian epics. I grew up with the songs and the epic stories of the Northern Albanian Alps, where my forefathers came from. My grandfather was the person who made me love these poems. Also my father was; he used to recite the epic legends of the warriors of my lineage to us all before we went to bed. Of course this Albanian lyrical and epic tradition, which is present in my poetry, merges with the great European literary trends of the XX century. I also love reading the African and the South American poetry of the XX century.
Sciarrino. What Albanian sources do you use? Do you refer to historic characters or only to legendary characters?
F. The historical sources I use are the legends of the Alps in the North of Albania, a place where the cursed mountains of Bjeshkët and Nëmuna are located. There the Kanun, the Albanian oral Code of Law, the Albanian Code of Honour, the Albanian epics was established; then there are also the myths, the legends, the rites, the stories, the oral tradition, the songs of the nizam, as were called in Turkish the Albanian soldiers who were compelled to fight for the Turks during the Turkish rule in the Balkans; the songs of the kurbet, the songs of the Albanian migrants in the XIX century under the Ottoman occupations; besa, the ‘word of honor’ for the Albanians, hospitality, tolerance, the history of my people which is full of tragedy throughout the centuries; the mystic tradition of my family line, the bektashi, and also the history of Albania under the communist rule of the dictator Enver Hoxha and, lastly, the situation of contemporary post-communist Albania.
Sciarrino. In ‘Albanian mourning’ (2016) you offer a detailed and full account of the awful persecutions of the dissident poets and writers during the Hoxa regime. After writing this heartfelt and, at the same time, rational ‘funereal song’, what are your feelings toward your country?
H. I feel love and hate. As a matter of fact, in the last years the Italian and the world press have often called post communist Albania the new Colombia of Europe because of drug production and trafficking. Everyday there is a new political scandal in the country,as well as corruption and illegal trafficking. The corruption, the killings, the relation between the ‘Mafia’ and the politicians have been everyday affair since 1992 and they still are. Not to talk about the crimes committed during the Hoxa regime which, after 27 years, no culprits have been named yet, nor has anyone received any official condemnation from the Albanian Parliament. Anyway, Albania is still the biggest mystery in the Balkans as well as in Europe.
Sciarrino. In Long Live the Cock Crowing in the Communist Village. Slogans from Enver Hoxha’s Albania (2013) you let the Italian readers know about the thousands of slogans through which the Enverist regime used to exercise its power and to impose an atmosphere of terror on its people. Many slogans refer to the private sphere and are so surreal to appear ridiculous, just like the one in the title. The question is how did people react to them: was there acceptance and approval or gasped disapproval and silent refusal?
H. The slogans belonged to the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, one of the worst dictatorships in the XX century. For longer than half a century they exercised a strong psychological terror on the citizens’ minds, a real brainwash. These slogans represent half a century of the class struggle led by Enver Hoxha, one of the principles on which his fierce tyranny was based. All this belonged to the state terror, to the absurdity and the criminal pathology of that fierce tyranny in the years between 1941 and 1990. The slogans extolled the masses, the Party and the tyrant Hoxha, unity for the construction of the Communism and for the defeat of the internal and external enemies. Many went behind bars because they refused to chant the slogans during the demonstrations organized by the Communist Party, founded on ‘bones and blood’. So it was not simply a question of approval or of disapproval. I have been collecting all these slogans for many years through careful work.
Sciarrino. Do you think that poetry can have practical aims? Can you be politically involved through poetry? How?
H. All poets, as individuals, belong to society and so they cannot be indifferent towards the problems, the sufferings and the hopes of the people of their epoch. This is the great tradition of the history of European literature. Many poets have been condemned together with their work, tortured, detained in concentration camps, have died in exile or have been shot only because they were committed to the fight for freedom, against injustices, integralism, crimes against humanity.
Sciarrino. You are the editor of the book series ‘Erranze’ published by the ‘Ensemble’ press; what guidelines do you follow in choosing the books to be published? Are there any common features in all the books which have been published so far?
H. The book series ‘Erranze’ published by the ‘Ensemble’ press (I chose its name) aims at finding, translating, publishing and promoting the poets (men and women) both from worlds that are near or far away, considering them as bearers of human and literary values. They belong to forgotten worlds and have never been translated into Italian. As a matter of fact, the poets we have published so far were unknown to Italian readers: Besnik Mustafaj with his Legend of My Birth, Gémino Abad with his Where Words Do Not Break, Kamau Brathwaite with his Right of Passage, Wilson Harris with his Eternity to Season, Gerda Stevenson with her If This Were Real and Jean Claude Izzo with his Far Away from Everything .
Sciarrino. ‘Stigmata’ is not just the title of your collection of poems published in 2002 but also and above all one of the most important themes of your poetic production; what do they represent both from a religious and a secular point of view?
H. The stigmatas symbolize the wounds of life, the marks acquired during our human journey and the deep interior experience. They are the marks of the labour and of suffering which generate my poetic word. So more than a religious value, they have a value of religiosity.
Sciarrino. In ‘Black Thorns’ (2004) the theme of the grave has more than one possible meaning. You ask to be buried in the hills of Darsia, on the fresh earth while in other poems, you want your ashes to be scattered far away from your country; how do you reconcile such clashing wishes? What does a grave represent for you?
H. The true dissident and exiles from my land, those who were compelled to flee during the communist regime of Enver Hoxa, have two kinds of deaths: the true and the imagined one. The imagined death means for them the long-wished for return to their country, the other death means the true burial, outside Albania, in those lands where they were compelled to live for the rest of their lives.
The grave for me means living in a different way.
Matilde Sciarrino is doctoral student at the University of Saarland in Germany and is writing her dissertation on poet Gëzim Hajdari. She has taught Italian language and literature in many countries, including Lybia and Jordan,. She has written extensively on “letteratura della migrazione, i.e., writers who write in Italian even though it might not be their native language
Featured image: Photo by Aritra Sanyal.