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
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
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.