The Madwoman’s Roof

It’s midnight, and a worker returning
from the second shift at the cannery
tests what strength he has left

by throwing stones against the tiles
of the madwoman’s roof.

‘Damn you all, you sons of bitches!’
she curses from inside.

She is history, unable to cast blame on anyone.
She is the skeleton key, the collective curse
on a night that reeks of sardines and enzymes.

by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi

This is the final poem taken from the shortlist for The Corneliu M Popescu Prize that we are featuring. The Prize, run by the Poetry Society, was formerly called the European PoetryTranslation Prize. The first winner of the Prize, in 1983, was Tony Harrison for The Oresteia. The prize was relaunched in 2003, and renamed in honour of the Romanian translator Corneliu M Popescu, who died in an earthquake in 1977 at the age of 19. The Popescu Prize 2013 has a shortlist of seven books, and the winner this year was Alice Oswald for Memorial, her ‘excavation’ of Homer’s Iliad. You can watch a video of Oswald reading from her book on thePoetry Society site.

This week’s poem comes from Haywire: New & Selected Poems, and is copyright © Luljeta Lleshanaku, 2011. The translation is © Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi, 2011. It is reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Haywire: New & Selected Poems by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Henry Israeli, Luljeta Lleshanaku and Shpresa Qatipi.

The judges of the Popescu Prize, Karen Leeder and David Wheatley, comment: ‘I could have been born in another place /within another idiom’, writes Lujeta Lleshanaku, in lines that acquire a prophetic edge in these fine translations, like some latter-day Double Vie de Véronique, holding Eastern and Western Europe in delicate balance.

Luljeta Lleshanaku  was born in Elbasan, Albania in 1968. Under Enver Hoxha’s Stalinist dictatorship, she grew up under house arrest. Lleshanaku was not permitted to attend college or publish her poetry until the weakening and eventual collapse of the regime in the early 1990s. She later studied Albanian philology at the University of Tirana, and has worked as a schoolteacher, literary magazine editor and journalist. She won the prestigious International Kristal Vilenica Prize in 2009, and has had a teaching post at the University of Iowa and a fellowship from the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She has given readings in America, Europe and in Ireland at the Poetry Now Festival in Dún Laoghaire in 2010, and you can watch a film of her reading in Ireland on the Bloodaxe site.

Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) is her first British publication, and draws on two editions published in the US by New Directions, Fresco: Selected Poems (2002) and Child of Nature  (2010), as well as a selection of newer work. As well as being shortlisted for the Corneliu M Popescu Prize for poetry translated from a European language into English, it is also a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation.

Henry Israeli is a poet, translator, and founder and editor of the poetry press Saturnalia Books. He studied at McGill University and the University of Iowa, and is now assistant teaching professor, and associate director, certificate in writing and publishing, at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is the lead translator of Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation shortlisted for the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for Poetry Translated from a European Language into English. He was also the lead translator as well as the editor of her two US editions, Fresco: Selected Poetry of Luljeta Lleshanaku (New Directions, 2002) and Child of Nature (New Directions, 2010). His own books include New Messiahs(Four Ways Books, 2002) and Praying to the Black Cat (De Sol Press, 2010). He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Canada Council on the Arts, amongst others.

Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Popescu to the Nobel Prize (the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011, Tomas Tranströmer, was the sixth Nobel Laureate to be published in the UK by Bloodaxe).  Alongside a substantial list of books in translation, Bloodaxe publishes both new and established poets from Britain and Ireland, as well as manypoets from the US and other countries.  Since 2000, Bloodaxe has been based in Northumberland, with its finance and sales office in Bala, North Wales. You can learn more about the press from its website.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.