I had no plans on reading poetry during my read the world challenge, but in the case of Kosovo it actually seems appropriate. I find poetry to be beautiful, but I prefer prose. I had never heard of Ali Podrimja before, but I have to say I am happy to have found Who Will Slay the Wolf: Poetry from Kosovo. Why I feel it is appropriate that I read poetry is that poetry is more popular than prose in Kosovo.
I had to look into the author a bit before my read, because I felt like I needed to know where this man came from to understand what he has written. I was right! Podrimja did not lead an easy life. He lost his parents as a child. Later on his son, Lumi, died of cancer. Podrimja’s death was as sad as his life had been. While he was at a poetry festival in France, he went for a walk in the woods, got lost, became dehydrated and died. Tragedy was always present in his life. Only good poetry can come out of a life like that, right? Right!
Podrimja touches many feelings, subjects and centuries in his poems. One subject that goes through the heart of all other subjects, as well as time periods, is (no surprise) loss. There are not many positive thoughts or hopeful optimism in his work. Understandable. When you lose pretty much everything and everyone in your life, it can be hard to see any hope out there. In the case of Kosovo as a country there is also general issues of loss, like national identity and independence.
The Serb police was a symbol of loss to the people of Kosovo. The police spread fear, and let the people know they had no freedom. I am happy to see that even though Podrimja was not an optimist the country has lately seen hope, and the future looks a lot brighter nowadays. Would Podrimja’s poetry have been so great without loss and hardship? I doubt it.
I always wonder with poetry how well it translates. I read several languages, and I’ve read well-translated poetry, but still I have a feeling that most poems will tell a different story when translated. It doesn’t mean it is automatically bad, not at all, but it is somehow different. The cultural context as well as some words used in a language can simply not be translated into another language without losing something in the process. On the other hand it might gain something, but that is not why the poem was written.
“I dreamt of you after many years
I shall saddle the horse I shall saddle death
Right to your shell forgotten in an ocean
It is time to conquer my root”