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The Condemned Apple: Selected Poems

Visar Zhiti

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie
With an Introduction by Janice Mathie-Heck

A Bilingual Edition

SALE PRICE: U.S. $9.95
Visar Zhiti
The Condemned Apple: Selected Poems
Series No.: 134
ISBN: 1-931243-72-7, Pages:
Albanian Literature, Poetry

In this bilingual edition, Green Integer presents, for the first time in English, the poetry of the greatest living Albanian poet, Visar Zhiti. As Janice Mathie-Heck makes clear in her introduction, Zhiti lived a life of great privation: locked away in dictator Enver Hoxha's prisons, Zhiti was not allowed pencil or paper. He wrote his poems in his mind, and he and other prisoners committed them to memory, in part to keep their sanity and to enliven the terrible lives they were forced to bear. Only when Hoxha fell from power and the political prisoners were freed was Zhiti's poetry brought to print. Now English-speaking readers can share in the remarkably gentle and imagistically rich poems produced out of Zhiti's years of suffering.

Book Review(s)


by Kevin Higgins

The Condemned Apple is quite simply the most disturbing collection of poetry I've ever read. Visar Zhiti was born on 2 December 1952 in the port of Durres on the Adriatic coast. Between 1970 and 1973 his first published poems appeared in literary periodicals. By 1973 Visar was preparing his first collection of poems, Rhapsody of the life of roses. Pretty standard stuff so far. If he'd lived in Ireland or Britain, Visar might have gone on to be nominated for a Forward Prize or some such, or been invited to showcase his first collection at The Ledbury Festival or Cúirt. Or he might have been ignored, and if this happened he would, no doubt, have complained about it to his friends. Such is the poet's life. At least as we have come to know it.

But Visar Zhiti didn't live in Brighton or Galway; he lived in a country under the absolute rule of the fanatical Stalinist, Enver Hoxha, who made Nicolae Ceausescu look like a benign liberal. Hoxha was a crank of gargantuan proportions. After first falling out with the Soviet Union, when Khrushchev admitted that Stalin had actually made a mistake or two, Hoxha then proceeded to fall out with the Chinese when, after Mao's death, they called a halt to the so called 'Cultural Revolution' and put the Gang of Four - including Mao's wife Jiang Qing - on trial. He condemned the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China (and all their satellites from Cuba to North Korea) as "bourgeois revisionists". By the mid-1970s Albania had broken off diplomatic and economic contact with the rest of the communist world, it was now officially "the only socialist country in the world". It was also probably the second worst place in the world to live. In terms of grim Stalinist brutality, only Pol Pot outstrips the Albanian regime.

It was hardly the ideal circumstances in which to be publishing a first collection of poems. Zhiti had just submitted the manuscript of his first collection to the Naim Frasheri publishing company, when the Purge of the Liberals' happened at the Plenary Session of the Communist Party in Tirana. That the 'Liberals' in question only existed in Enver Hoxha's imagination was neither here nor there; they had to be purged anyway. And Zhiti suffered as a result. His work was interpreted as "blackening socialist reality". In 1979 two members of the League of Writers and Artists - their names are abbreviated here to R.V. and P.K - prepared an "expert opinion" on the poetic works of Visar Zhiti, at the request of the Ministry of the Interior. The two lackeys dutifully handed over their 12-page "expert opinion" to the authorities on 24 October 1979. Two weeks later Visar Zhiti was arrested. He was finally released on 28 January 1987, having done the rounds of the Albanian gulags, including the hellish copper mines at Spac.

This "expert opinion" is republished in full at the back of the book. It makes chilling reading, in particular because its vehement denunciation of the "obscure language" and "hermetic" nature of some of Zhiti's poems reminds me of things I've actually heard socialist friends - some of them now former friends - say about the works of poets such as Medbh McGuckian and John Ashbery. Much left-wing literary criticism, particularly as it appears in the small press, is still laced with Stalinist attitudes. These days there are few overt Stalinists left, but there are certainly those on the literary left who talk Trotsky – "no party line when it comes to art", and all that - but act Stalin when dealing with poetry which doesn't appear to serve the cause. Bad and all as things are, those of us who live in the Western world are at least still basically free to write whatever we want. Our poems may languish mostly ignored - that's a different issue - but at least Medbh McGuckian is not in danger of being denounced by the Ministry for the Interio

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