I was invited to a poetry reading tonight by my embassy contact and was introduced to the reader of the hour, Arian Leka, whose current book won the 2010 all-Albania poetry contest. Leka is also the head of the Poeteka International Festival of Poetry which has been held in Albania for the last few years. I’ll miss it this year as it will be held in August or September. The reading took place in a little bookstore which was clean and well-appointed but also cosy and comfortably crowded. The reading itself took place in a small sort of patio room with a working wood stove, tile floors and plants. My friend tried to translate some of the poetry but it was hard going and I let her off the hook when she admitted it was difficult to translate poetry on the fly. I was surprised she tried at all since it’s a tough job to translate in writing not to mention at the spur of the moment. I did get an idea of the imagery Leka was using. One interesting thing is that the post-reading discussion involved at least two professors/critics giving their explanations or views on Leka’s poetry in a rather off-the-cuff manner. There seemed to be more interest in Leka’s poetry as a subject than we see in readings in the US. I’m used to seeing people introduce, listen and rah-rah, but not discuss it critically at all. Of course, there were also the same tired questions poets everywhere must get asked: “how do you write your poetry? Where do you get inspiration?” I can imagine someone asking Homer all those millenia ago “so, do you revise your poems or go with the first draft? Do you have a special place you like to compose?” I’m supposed to meet with Leka sometime next week. I’m a little concerned about what we might talk about. I feel a little out of my league. I’ve been a finalist for national prizes (National Poetry Series a couple years ago, for example) but never hit the big time. Should be interesting to see what happens.
Under the “Didn’t Expect to See This in Tirana:” As I was walking back I came upon two street performers with amped up music, all in Ecuadoran (I guess–something indigenous and South American) dress and playing traditional South American music on some big flutes. They were getting a lot of tips. In Elbasan I was told that the State Dept arranged for a mariachi band from the US to tour parts of Albania and was a huge hit. You never know what might connect between cultures.