REVIEW: The Death of Night. Selected poems by Ndrek Gjini. Pbck. 89pp. Emal publishers. ISBN 9928-04-026-5
By Emily Cullen*
After only ten years in Ireland, Albanian-born Ndrek Gjini has produced his debut collection of poetry in English. Gjini has firmly established himself in the Galway arts community through his work with the City Arts Office and his several successful literary initiatives. His collection offers unique insight into a poet’s quest to find the Self through the heightened lyrical possibilities of poetry within a newly acquired second language. Gjini uses English and poesy as a vehicle to a new world, condensing his experiences of home at a cultural and linguistic remove. This becomes a crutch he crafts to carry the freight of his broken history. The combination of geographic dislocation, moving between traditions, and weighing words in an adopted vocabulary bestows a vibrant freshness on Gjini’s poems. We experience the world anew through his philosophical eyes and poet’s heart as he breaks free of the normative and the descriptive, giving full reign to his imagination: ‘what if a fish was looking up / a good recipe / on how to cook a man’ (from ‘On Holidays’). His subtle use of the macabre affords a glimpse into the fraught history of the Balkans, arresting the reader from the very first poem: ‘neon lights on the roads and squares/are like bandages on its injured body.’ But even in this title poem, light appears alongside darkness, ultimately overtaking it.
Simplicity of language is a strength of this book as Gjini speaks in an almost elemental tone, conjuring the idiom of a folk tale. Nature and the seasons are often personified: ‘The twilight runs away from him / or the night locks him in forever’ (from ‘The refrain of a pensioner’). A concern with the cyclical continuity of life, and a veneration for the customs and beliefs of his people pervades his work. The magic is in the brevity he achieves, collapsing an emotion and an insight into just a few potent lines. This same concision falters, however, in certain poems where imagery and ideas are truncated in ephemeral conclusions. Consequently, these sparse lyrics become like fragments that suggest there is more that might have been said.
While an affecting, poignant note resounds through the collection, especially in poems evoking the poet’s mother, Gjini is, ultimately, a celebrant who advocates belief. ‘Every time we believe / we extend our lives a little bit’, he writes in ‘War against doubt’. The manifestation of hope becomes a key concern for Gjini who closes his book with the lines: ‘Yet as long as more bridges / are being built than destroyed / love prevails over hate.’ We are reminded of Walter Benjamin who stated: ‘It is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us.’ Gjini has seen, first-hand, how the ‘milk of love’ is necessary to crumble the ‘walls of malice’ and his message is an important one. Every so often we need to hear an authentic voice, such as Gjini’s, to remind ourselves that we are responsible for our own perceptions, for fostering our imaginations and, ultimately, for nurturing our own happiness.
*Dr. Emily Cullen’s second collection of poetry, In Between Angels and Animals, was recently published by Arlen House.