By Prof. Dr. Hasan Erkek “Thoughts on Jeton Kelmendi’s Poetry Collection “Life Lives Within Me”

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Thoughts on Jeton Kelmendi’s Poetry Collection “Life Lives Within Me”

Prof. Dr. Hasan Erkek, Poet, autho

The Artist’s Anguish From Prehistory to Today In a certain sense, art is the tragedy of the human being standing motionless on the crossroads of infinite space and uncertain time. It is an expression of indecisiveness and hopelessness. It is a cry of pain, with arms raised towards the sky. It is the warming up of hope with one’s breath. It is the search for existential meaning, and an attempt to create meaning within the world into which one was thrown. This was probably how humans felt even in prehistoric times. The quandaries must have been the same. The same dead ends must have led to art. What was inside found expression, sometimes through sound, sometimes through movement, and sometimes through words. Though the words used to describe them might have been different, there were attempts to express one’s despair, hopelessness, or hope.
Contrary to other species, humans collect cultural phenomena and transfer them from one
generation to the next. The same collection and transfer undoubtedly takes place in poetry too. However, it is natural for each poet to begin their own writing practice by drawing from the time and space into which they are born, because every poet is an individual and therefore unique, irreplaceable, incomparable. Though a poet should know and does lean on the poetic traditions that came before them, in a sense they begin the act of writing anew in relation to their own time and place. If this weren’t the case, how could a new poet dare move their pen in a literary field previously traversed by the likes of Homer, Molière, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, Brecht, Neruda, Aragon, Mayakovsky, Nazım Hikmet, Levchev, and Adonis?
“There is Nothing New Under the Sun” But “The Sun Rises Anew Each Day”
The phrase “there is nothing new under the sun,” commonly attributed to Cicero, certainly
holds water, but we must remember that like Heraclitus said, the sun rises afresh each day, and every time it rises it is a new sun.
It is natural and even necessary for new poets to emerge in spite of the strong poetic
tradition that already exists. Because Homer didn’t witness the first and the second world war. Molière never found out about the splitting of the atom. Shakespeare didn’t see humankind go to space. Cervantes never travelled by plane. Lorca didn’t know what the Internet was, Nazım Hikmet never had a smartphone. Brecht didn’t experience the Berlin Wall coming down, Aragon did not watch the Soviet Union dissolve on television. Mayakovsky and Elsa Triolet never had a video call.
Perhaps this is why all poets are novice poetry builders. Those who have a thorough grasp
and mastery of poetic techniques have also mastered how to be novices. However skilful we might be, we are all chasing the type of plainspoken poetry that Sappho, Lorca, Orhan Deli, Forugh Farrokhzad, Gülten Akın, and Metin Altıok also chased. And when we manage to write that sort of poem it’s like finding a treasure.
Thus new poet-candidates begin to write poetry every day, in Sweden, Cuba, Japan, New
Zealand, Turkey, or Kosovo, and begin a new tradition by themselves. They feel like the primitive artists expressing their pain, complaint, or love, while at the same time trying to deal with the weight of this age, and to use poetry to withstand it.
The Poetry of Jeton Kelmendi on Fractured and Slippery Ground and a Tricky Time
These were my initial thoughts upon reading Jeton Kelmendi’s poetry collection “Life Lives
Within Me,” translated into Turkish by Yeliz Altunel and published by Şiirden Publications.
Jeton Kelmendi was born in 1978 in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and his
childhood and youth coincided with the dissolution (1980-2000) of this unique federation which had been founded with great hopes. The majority of his lifetime was spent in a process of splitting and re-unifying. With the establishment of the Kosovo Republic (2008), the curtailed soul was attempted to be repaired and healed. Reflections of this curtailment are clearly visible in his lines.
The fragmented nature of his poetry mirror the slippery geography of his birth, dissolving and trying to reunify, and splitting into even more pieces while doing so. Parts of his life have witnessed so many events and happenings that “history’s forehead is wrinkled now.”
As we read the book, we encounter a subject-poet who searches for meaning at a point
where time and place collide, in nearly every poem. We witness the subject-poet’s fruitless struggle, and we see how he falters as he moves forward. We observe that even when forging ahead at high speed, he’s always aware that he is defeated. It is heartbreaking for a young pen to write “Life has a singular direction of travel: death / and we are all it passengers.”
Our subject-poet, who travels intermittently and often stops to gaze at the horizon, asks,
“Who am I in this time?” The subject-poet who asks the fundamental question and searches for the meaning of life gradually attains self-awareness. He passes through various phases swiftly, leaves behind the signs of “exile” and “yearning” — as defined by Behçet Necatigil — at an early age, and approaches the “sign of wisdom.” In one poem he says, “I’ve been scattered across horizons.”
Having become an adult in the new millennium and being the representative of an
“entrepreneurial” generation, Kelmendi is active in many different fields in addition to poetry. Journalism, translation, and political analysis is amongst them. He is a university lecturer by profession and has an academic career. However, when grappling with quotidian realities, he overcomes them with poetry, confronts the realities of the universe, and is “conquered” and shaken by the truth. Because in many ways, life “resembles dying.”
The most mysterious and untrustworthy amongst all the players in this game of life is time.
Time is a trickster. And “plays by the rules of the game.” Time constantly “paints itself,” hides in camouflage, is deceptive. An oasis in time is much more illusory and tempting than an oasis in space. Thus life becomes a “rigged game.” “If you can’t do anything to time,” you have no choice but to suffer and write poems.
On the other hand, space is also unreliable in certain ways. The spaces we call home or our
homeland don’t truly belong to us. “An unfortunate habit of the homeland / is that it sometimes forgets who lives on it.”
Though in spite of all this, anything is possible. Dreaming about and working towards
building a new life is enticing. And the subject-poet is not hopeless. He remembers to hope, and “hopes for something better than today.” However, time the trickster is at work again. “While today looks at tomorrow / through the window of life,” “tomorrow doesn’t trust today.” Despite all efforts, sometimes time, place, or circumstances won’t be conducive enough to build a new life. “Life expands through time,” becoming richer and unwieldy simultaneously.
This seems to mean there’s only one option left to add meaning to life, and that’s love. “One needs courage to dare believe in love.” Love rises like the “rays of the sun” over meaning. However, the problem of credibility arises here too. Love which doesn’t permeate is like a coat of paint or polish over life. When it dries and flakes off, life’s meaninglessness emerges in all its rawness. Death bares its teeth like a skull.
It is an eternal contradiction that the individual life is spent pursuing the greater meaning of life. So much so that “meaning loses its meaning.” Because “reality makes every dream fade.”
In this age where sandstorms are sweeping through space and time is a gambler who always wins, and the lives we’re trying to establish resemble sandcastles, even love can’t be a complete salve for our wounds. In this journey which we think both as society and as individuals that takes us further, but in reality we progress very little, only the art we note is left for us. We console ourselves with it.
Jeton Kelmendi, who was born in Yugoslavia, came of age in Kosovo, and has managed to
become a poet of the world, has written 11 collections of poetry to this day. His poems have been translated into more than thirty languages. He had received more than twenty national and international awards. He has translated many foreign poets into Albanian. His poetry and enterprising nature have made him an international poet at a young age. His poetry and his journey as a poet deserves to be closely watched by critics and younger poets alike.
If politicians who don’t heed artists and scientists don’t blow up the world, and if capitalism
doesn’t turn the earth into an inhabitable rubbish heap, poets of younger generations will continue to live different lives through similar adventures. They will begin to write poetry, either by getting to know the poetic tradition or ignoring it completely, and they will make poetry begin anew with hem. Every life and poetic experience is unique to the poet who is living through it. For poets not living through it themselves but getting to know it, it can only be partially valid. Every young poet will pass under the signs of exile and yearning, and will try to reach their own variation of the sign of wisdom.
I wish Jeton Kelmendi the best of luck on this arduous and poetic journey…

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