Zodiac by Moikom Zeqo, translated by
Anastas Kapurani and Wayne Miller
Zephyr Press, 2015; 152 pp
Reviewed by Wesley Rothman
This Zodiac is a crucial artifact for poetry, for transnational art, for mythology and language, and for perspective. It brings English-speakers and poetry-lovers a ranging Albanian poet in Moikom Zeqo, through a smartly crafted series, likened appropriately to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Zodiac also carries with it observational and referential echoes of Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, and with this particular translation — of language and culture — Kapurani and Miller have facilitated our connection with Zeqo, offering us a well-fashioned linguistic translation beside its original Albanian, in addition to the culture and history of an Eastern-/Western-epicenter (the endnotes inform us about the frequent references to Albanian mythology, history, and geography). We are trusted to navigate the likely more familiar Western references.
The book’s thoughtful and informative introduction by Wayne Miller (accompanied by a full-page photo of Zeqo) sets us up for the exchange of Zodiac — what it asks of us as readers and people, and what Zeqo might do to and for us. The poet is portrayed as a social and cultural polymath in Albania’s political and cultural turbulence (“Albania is both ancient and strikingly young as a nation, and its national art and literature are similarly both ancient and young” (ix)), exiled and now returned. An intriguing, though subtle component of this portrayal is present in both the introduction and the poems — a kind of disclaimer. We are gently encouraged to give Zeqo the benefit of the doubt, to roll with his “primarily ecstatic and visionary [mode], conjuring into the air before him all sorts of strange, poignant, apt, and sometimes funny wildness” (xiv). Another aspect of this portrayal comes in the form of feeling for Zeqo, “Zodiac is [his] bid against future anonymity, his attempt to inscribe his name as fully and powerfully as he can” (xii). We are reminded that the context with which this book comes is as essential as the poems, and to a degree, boxes out the poems. The situatedness of these poems, of the poet and translators, of the references and language seems briefly like pity for Zeqo but ultimately gongs the absolute necessity of these poems and the project of this translated Zodiac — it connects us with a poet, a nation, a culture too often relegated to invisibility. Past sympathizing with Zeqo’s fear of being forgotten (“And while ‘the books [Zeqo] write[s] turn invisible / as soon as [he] finish[es] them,’ he also reminds himself that even Hemingway in the 21st century has had ‘his fangs pulled out’” (xi)) we are able to feel how that urgency and fear led to these risky, opening, ecstatic poems.
While reading Zeqo’s Zodiac we can see why this portrayal is useful, why a disclaimer regarding craft and language and intellect and reference is important — this book is a mediator between languages, between cultures, between awarenesses, between poetic tendencies. There is a baldness of emotion that most American workshops would condemn, and language that stumbles only to sprint and stumble once more. Zodiac is not poetic or cultural tourism but an invitation to bathe in the poetics and culture and emotion of an other we may never have had the privilege of knowing. Zeqo, through Kapurani and Miller, presents us with an elegant jumble of human experience, a manic meditation of the person’s place in and out of time. He manages humor, poignancy, awkwardness, and growth. We are offered a clear chance to negotiate with Zeqo; this book, these poems remind us that poetry, like translation, is a form of negotiation.