Book review on Ndue Ukaj’s “The Crate of Salvation,” poetry volume, published by Drita Publishing House, Prizren, Kosovo (2012)
By Anton Gojçaj, Albanian writer from Tuzi, Montenegro: Translated in English: Peter Tase
In all his poetry, from its micro to macro structures, somewhere in a very lucid style and in other place expressed very implicitly, Ndue Ukaj expresses by himself the memories of love, with the passion and faith of a missionary. That is the “Spritus movens” of this poetry. The darkness and coldness emerging from these verses, looks like they are the birth of separating ties of the contemporary man with his own roots and of the loss of spirit and genuine spiritual values of a civilization in crisis: “In its city there is a ruined cathedral, it is standing among ruins, its choir is missing, and ‘Ave Maria’ Song (Laura’s Sunday).
Ukaj’s poetry preaches the lack of moral and ecological purity, but also the lack of (divine) music, in the world. Notwithstanding the icy environment, the lyrical speaker has not lost every hope, when, just as in a controlled fading “epiphany”, erupts in the enclosing verses of poetry, in my anthological opinion at “Laura’s Sunday”:
“She walks through the ruins of the Cathedral and lights a candle, and her pretty knees caress the robust stones.” There is an event or a meeting place as delicate as it is tectonic, where the pretty woman knees touch “harshly” the stone, on this occasion is released a transcendental energy, beyond the superficial explanation of semantics, which ignores the power of demise and promises something else, even if it is not revealing something tangible. Here we have elements that lead us to the conclusion that Ukaj connects love closely with Christianity. This conviction is emphasized even more in the verses of the fifth part of the poem “the Civilization of Love”, which simultaneously reminds us “The song of all songs” from the Old Testament, but also the adoration for love found in one of the letters of apostle Saint Paul who baptized the pagans: “Love is painful, is merciful, love is the mirror of embodied truth and even it is engulfed at unseen war with envy and quietly is at war with greed and with many thrones that are before her; and harmoniously has its feelings together with hope that is located under its arms. Love is not proud even when dark shadows are heading towards her. Its weapons are more perfected than hatred, love never dies neither sorrow is recognized by love.”
I think that “The Crate of Salvation” in this poem, with no desire to simplify it or to freeze it in a single minded significance, above all is a metaphor for love. Only love can rescue civilization from the waves of a turbulent era such as ours, the same as the rescue provided to insects and civilization by Noah’s Ark in the well known biblical genesis of flood narrative.
The loss of love, of spiritual, they all feel, individually and as a community. Security, self-confidence, orientation, inner peace is all lost. Unstable general behavior and lack of clear visions is over ruling, for which the people are always in need: “Sometimes it happens so that won’t understand the border between night and day neither between good and evil between right and wrong. Sometimes it happens when roads are mixed and in a great sorrow colors are not recognized at all this happens when lights are shut in the horizon. “ (When Biblical Peace is ruined)
The writing of Ndue Ukaj is a product of a newer era, post-Communist, of ever improving relations, more self-understanding, of Albanian Literature and European Literature. There is a steep turn from the usual rhetorical course and emphasized national symbolism (“She loves poetry, but doesn’t read patriotic stories” is said in the poem entitled “her Biographer”), in search of new semantic fjords, while understanding that great art, even though not necessarily negating nationalism, is found somewhere “beyond Ithaca”. The poet’s sorrow in search of himself, in terms of differentiating the individual’s existence in relation to human society, are reflections for a certain type of identity, personal identity, as an interaction between I the reader in relation with the writings/thoughts of others
And the search of ones’ place in this amazing circus wheel, which come around and grinds these subjects and cultural models: “you would say that we struggle with our minds in order to read books, we read them to encompass others’ ideas. We digest others’ ideas just like a cow’s stomach full of dry pasture. This is the sorrow of not being you.”
(Identity) we are in a globalist era, a trend that has its supporters and enemies. Dilemmas connected with the search of identity are numerous, especially amongst the members of small nations. Every individual wants to know what his real identity is.
Ukaj’s poetry also presents a series of such questions: “Suspicion shakes her, just like a human is shaken after a dream full of fear in a dark room, with a hybrid identity. She is beautiful. Is like a mysterious portrait, is broken while searching for desired answer for daily questions: who am I, I, Is it myself?
Or is it the shadow of time that imposes in me, colors, longing, love, longevity and abyss that is nearby the heavy [weight] nations.”
(While sensing the smell of truth) there are three searches of identity in the verses of this book: the search of artists identity / innovator / thinker with a personal as well as universal character, then the search of authentic national identity and the search of a faded European uniqueness. Lyrical hero, saddened with the state of the three identity planes, looks like he has lost confidence that something will improve for better: “For our lost paradise just like in our dream we embrace the inverted tree’s identity whose fruits are tasteless” (Identity) the blame for all this chaos and confusion is the corrupt politics, which has also escaped from its first rate mission, the improvement of life in the community.
Faceless politics, which doesn’t know limits and sanctity, where there is God’s town has built a city of clouds: “Where actions of politics have thrown dirt on everything including the birds’ voices and kisses of loved ones.” (In the cloud’s city)
Another particularity of Ukaj’s pen, recognized, is the creation of paintings that communicate, with descriptive-allegorical-meditation sub-extensions, which create powerful metaphorical scenes: there is a crowd of people some of them dance in front of an orchestra that is fighting with the wind and in a city corner is read poetry. The hands of poets are shaking and their paper sheets are tormented by the wind, within the walls are kept unexplainable mysteries just like in old castles: documents, weapons, beds of loved ones. There is a concrete podium, is not a theater, but noise is its auditorium.” (Poem’s watch)
The tradition in which Ndue’s work can be related is the European Cultural Tradition. This poem deserves to be called as “European” in many levels, starting with some crucial connective points, first of all the references flowing in biblical writing, them Homer’s poems and Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” etc. … It is considered to be this way for its modern expressionism, for its free verse and its admirable rhythm full of dignity, for its invention and figurative richness, with many inter-textual tentacles with European literary heritage, with multidimensional semantics that, like a fountain, in a receptive space, plants ideas, feelings, images, requests, and many other significances.
The major energizers of this poetry are humanism, love and freedom.
The major part of the book is developed over the archetypes of classical European culture and this provides a great coherence to Ndue Ukaj.
Nonetheless, there are other poems connected with spiritual values and historical national themes, of Albanians, such as: “While feeling the aroma of truth,” “The Knight of civilization” or “To Poetry’s father.”
Ndue Ukaj with is work, but especially with his book “The Crate of Salvation” opens a new path in Albanian poetry, that I would call – a lyrical call to return into the genetic and spiritual European core, not to be engulfed in the origin, but to acquire a new inspiration, with the objective: to be followed and promoted with artistic tools, healthier, happier models of culture.
The language of poetry, besides its multi meanings, is also multi-functional. The influence of neo European style in poetry should not be understood only as a nakedness of racial skin, or negation of some over layers of national history, but as a powerful call for a conscientious return, and full conviction in its own natural family, with which Albanians are undividedly connected since its early childhood, although a cloudy nation of this ancient civilization. The primary mission of this poetry even though it is the stimulation of aesthetic delight to the reader and this is another factor, perhaps the decisive, that makes Ukaj a genuine representative of the neo-European era in our contemporary literature.
Poems such as “ the girl who read the Divine Comedy,” “Laura’s Sunday,” “Last Supper,” “The platoon of Angles,” “Mass of Easter” “turbulences” and many more, certify convincingly this thesis. The book is written in the northern Albanian dialect (Gege).
There are writers/ artists who are in search of their identity as writers during all their lifetime. Even though he is in the best age to invent verses, on the other side, a writer during all his life explores new shapes of expression, Ndue Ukaj in “the Crate of salvation”, it seems that he has found his own style, which distinguishes and identifies him from poets of his generation in Kosova and also among Albanian poets.