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An evening of Albanian poetry: Rrahman Dedaj

John Watkins writes:

In the summer of 1990, my wife and I and two small children set off for a six-month tour of the Balkans. During that trip, we went to Kosovo. That’s when we first met Rrahman Dedaj and his family.

At the time, Kosovo was very tense. In March 1989, Serbia had begun passing a series of decrees that stripped Kosovo of its autonomy. Throughout 1989 and into 1990, there had been violent protests. Fortunately for us, there was a lull during May. We arrived in Prishtina and phoned Rrahman’s home from ‘The Grand Hotel’. Rrahman’s daughter Arta came to meet us. She took us back to the family home and when Rrahman returned from work, he told us about the pressures he and his country were under. After lunch, we went to Gërmia to play football. Rrahman loved football.

As well as a poet, Rrahman was also a politician. He had been in the Kosovan Assembly on 23rdMarch 1989 when it had been surrounded by tanks and forced to vote for its own dissolution. Rrahman had resigned as a Deputy but when we met up he was still working as an editor at the Kosovan publishing house, ‘Rilindja’.

In April 1999, when NATO had begun bombing strategic targets in Kosovo, Serb paramilitaries came to Rrahman’s apartment. He was given two minutes to pack. Luckily, he had filled his car with petrol and he and his wife Meli joined a convoy that eventually crossed into Macedonia. They came to England and lived with Arta who had left Kosovo some years before. Rrahman died in August 2005. His final book, ‘Zoti thotë ndryshe Adam’ (God says it differently Adam) was published posthumously in 2006.

Rrahman’s poetry is deceptively complex, as I realised when I tried to translate two of his poems and had to ask Arta for help. Reading Rrahman’s poems was a small homage to man who, despite all manner of personal difficulties, remained charming and hospitable. He was also a fine poet.


Frymëmarrjen ma di vetëm ky qytet

Prandaj një harfe e zgjon nga zemra e vet


Only this city knows my breathing

That’s why its heart will give life to a harp

Ardhjen time nis ta këndojë

Se një zog nga ashti im do të fluturojë

It begins to sing of my arrival

Because a bird is about to take flight from my bones

Do t'i gurëzohet mu në ballë

Në erën e jugut krahët për t'i kallë

It will harden to stone in front of the city

And the southern wind will set its wings on fire

Më shkruaj

Si na gjejnë letrat

Si na gjejnë fjalët

Write to me

How do letters find us?

How do words find us?

Ndërrimi i adresave

Nuk prish punë

Changes of addresses

Make no difference

Edhe largësitë flasin

E malli na kërkon

Dhe na fajëson

Even distances speak

And longing seeks us out

And blames us

Më shkruaj

Derisa letrat na njohin

se po rigon shi

Që nuk gjason me shiun

Write to me

While the letters still know who we are

Because it is drizzling

Which is not the same as rain

Poems translated from the Albanian by John Watkins, with help from Arta Dedaj-Salad.


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