Gentian Çoçoli was born in Gjirokaster, Albania, in 1972. He studied history and geography but soon dedicated himself to literature. For over ten years, he worked as a free-lance artist. In 1996 he founded The Aleph Review (Revista Aleph), a quarterly on literature, which soon became the focus of the young Albanian writers and translators. He also edited the anthology of the best young Albanian poets and an anthology of the best poets of the 20th century in Albanian, introducing authors such as Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Miroslav Holub, Paul Valéry, Tomas Venclova, Tomaž Šalamun, Tomas Tranströmer, Odiseas Elitis, Jorgos Seferis, etc. He edited works and published more than thirty European and American poets in his smallpress Aleph Press. He has published three books of poems: Qytetërime të Përkohshme (Temporary Civilisations) , Perimetri i Hirit (Circumference of the Ash) , which received the Best Book of the Year Award conferred by the Albanian Ministry of Culture, and more recently Dheu Njerëzor (Human Soil). He has also translated poetry selections by T. S. Eliot, John Ashbery, Seamus Heaney, Jorie Graham, Charles Wright, Tomas Venclova, Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, etc. In 2006 he participated in The International Writing Program of Iowa University in the United States.
Title: Perimetri i Hirit (The Perimeter of Ashes)
Place of Publication: Tirana
Year of Publication: 2001
ISBN: 99927-766-0-9 © all rights reserved to the author and to “Aleph” Publishing House firstname.lastname@example.org
“Poetry is no ‘logos’, it means poetry is not rationality. It is achieved through its constant ability to surprise with a childish curiosity and innocence, until it reaches an irrational and intuitive form, which leads to the secret essence of things.” (Agron Gjekmarkaj)
In the Author’s Hand
Just like Nikolai Gumilyev
with feet dragging, attention,
a winter compass set for the final course;
Iliad in hand, he stretches out his arms,
to put into perspective what is about to happen —
when the bullets will fall like stresses on his body
and that which is proper to him will emerge from its hiding place
to take the new path inscribed on his forehead.
Then a deep silence will fall,
lighter than this day’s snowfall on yesterday’s drifts;
polite whispers in Russian and ancient Greek will come
from behind the broken door: ink-black,
leathery, heavy, bookish, “Please, madam, ladies first,”
and “I insist, madam, ladies first.”
December. Piazza d’Autore. Fontana della Lingua.
Conference of marble gods. But indulgence
has softened and soiled their bodies, even the strongest among them.
And in that transparent air, even he seems etched through some design.
One of the figures, more solitary, sinks back
into the material, a bas-relief, unfinished,
and even if the man’s own features are better defined,
the one that troubles him still casts a human shadow.
In his teeth he holds a piece of wood (also of marble)
though why this has been stuck there in the figure’s body the author fails to specify:
all the water flowing invisibly up through his Adam’s apple
and down past his ankles, emerges in a thin stream
from the crack that a chisel’s tip, held in a leathery hand, once opened in his forehead.
Residents of the year 1995. Not far from here,
a siren of our age sounds,
afterwards shots, screams, a silence easily explained.
Then everything all over again from the beginning.
The human season has begun.
But farther off from us,
an ancient forest, attentive, brooding,
still has the strength to pull its heavy gates closed.
This time for good.
In the silence of an unfamiliar house, in foothills
heavy with the autumnal pathos of vineyards,
the translator Lirim sits down to break meaning from a marble language —
a rare occasion when a thousand eyes watch, as if projected on a screen,
the tip of the arrow, which has found at last
one vein in the long-scrutinized trail of death,
the one which threads, finally, down to the ankles.
But that blinding light which makes him squint does not come
From the copper clasp of ancient sandals; it comes
from the barrel of the shotgun of sniper No—, who from the hilltop,
hidden amongst the cottages where the grapes’ rich sugar ripens,
wastes no time this afternoon in splitting the pen’s point,
which in a second almost pours out and prints its hexametric magma
So close was language, but it was not to be written.
In March 1997 the library of Girokaster was nearly destroyed by unidentified armed men. Its preservation was due to the heroism of then-director Petraq Qurku and local residents. This poem is dedicated to them.
“Holding my unloaded shotgun, I waited for them to come.
A hundred thousand books placed by my own hand, squeezed into rows,
now covered by fear, flickering, burning red.
Uselessly I made a sign with my rifle, a kind of star — or Saturn, just for something
In the silence of the courtyard, I practiced my move (like Ed Harris in Sniper),
an empty gesture, the book in my other hand,
and my hand more bird than hand, trembling —
then a chaos of lead, of glass, of shouts and groans,
as if all at once all those pinewood shelves collapsed, pell-mell, with the book over
grazed and charred through by an sharp-eyed bullet,
(a soothing layer of plaster dust preserved its features for me for later);
I got up, barely able to stand, and out of a false sense of elation
kicking in my insides like a child, I took the book under my arm
and in an instant I was outside, running, with the single thought
to deliver that book to the author myself, directly into his hands.”
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Gentian Cocoli and Erica Weitzman