Professor and Student Cross the Balkans for Poetry
In 1990, Gjekë Marinaj was fleeing through the mountains from his home country of Albania into the former Yugoslavia. He was being pursued by Albanian secret police with tracker dogs. Marinaj’s crime: writing a poem.
“Horses” was a thinly veiled satire on the totalitarian oppressive system of the time. The same day the poem was printed in the newspaper, Marinaj was ordered to police headquarters. He never showed.
Eventually, he made his way to the United States and is now working on his doctorate in literature at UT Dallas. His research and work involve the philosophy of translation.
“I have received an incredible education at UT Dallas, and I hope to pass on what I’ve learned,” said Marinaj.
With Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities Dr. Frederick Turner, Marinaj has recently published Sung Across the Shoulder: Heroic Poetry of Illyria, a collection of Albanian oral folk-poetry.
Turning the poetry from spoken performance into print was no easy task. Since none of the poems had ever been written down, Marinaj traveled to inns and coffee-houses deep in the Albanian mountains to record the poets reciting their verse. Marinaj also photographed the speakers and the venues of their performances.
Back at UT Dallas, Turner and Marinaj began their collaborative work by listening to the recordings together and considering the photographs to determine whether or not a poem was fit for the book. The poem, if chosen, would then be translated, retaining its original tone, mood, style, diction, metrical form and rhyme.
“The whole collection, compiled under huge difficulties and at some personal sacrifice, is, I believe, an extraordinary and valuable achievement,” Turner said in Translation Review of Marinaj’s work.
The collection of poetry, however, is not Marinaj’s only recent accomplishment. He has also translated Turner’s books The Undiscovered Country: Sonnets of a Wayfarer and Out of Plato’s Caveinto Albanian.
Turner and Marinaj spent a week in May presenting the new books in Europe, stopping in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo.
“We met many fine poets, passionate and great of heart, but also astonishingly abreast of contemporary world literature and thought. We traveled widely across the snowy mountains, thundering gorges and Arcadian meadows of the Balkans, and I came to see why people have fought over it so fiercely through the centuries,” Turner said upon returning.
Marinaj will remain in Europe to complete research for his dissertation and other projects for the summer.
Marinaj earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UT Dallas, and is the author of many books of poetry and translation. He was awarded the 2008 Pjeter Abnori prize for literature by the International Cultural Center, part of the Albanian Ministry of Culture – an award given annually to an Albanian or international author in recognition of their ongoing contribution to national and world literature.