I learned about the poem “Albania” by chance. Eduardo C. Corral, the winner of the Yale Series of the Younger Poets for 2012, sent me a link via Facebook where Beloit Poetry Journal had announced the 20th annual Chad Walsh Poetry Prize. The award for 2012, which carried a cash value of $ 4000, had been given to Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. for her poem titled Albania. I read the poem once and I was overcome with joy. Then I read it a second time. Then a third…I could not break free of the reading pleasure. After I read the poem for the sixth time, I promised myself that if I had learned about the poem by chance, I’d learn about it’s author by choice. I wanted to thank her in person.
Ms. Gray, Jr. and I met several weeks later. I learned that she has a B. A. with high honors from Radcliffe College, Harvard University, a J. D. with honors from Harvard Law School, and an M. F. A. from Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers. Besides American academic credentials, she has also studied at the University of Aligarh, India; and at both the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy in Teheran and the University of Isfahan, in Iran. What’s more, I discovered that this Renaissance woman is an expert on complex negotiation and on the formation and management of strategic alliances and other forms of inter-organizational collaboration with a wide array of corporate and non-corporate clients, a translator of Persian and Tibetan literature, and a poet.
Familiar with many world literatures and experienced in many poetic techniques and forms, Gray, Jr. employs in “Albania” many elements of the ghazal, an ancient poetic form of rhyming couplets and a refrain. Ghazal in English is allowed to be different from the traditional forms in other languages, but in “Albania” the refrain is easily noticed in the repetition of the name Albania. The poem at first may seem to be about the day trip Ms. Gray, Jr. made to the south of Albania in 2005, but despite it’s lucid title and plot, the composition is about more than just Albania: it is a creation about human yearning for the forbidden; about human willpower to not fear the banned.
Albanians were closed off behind the Iron Curtain of communism for almost five decades. Our Albania endured the yoke of isolation and dictatorship wherever Albanians lived; however, as the fantastic poem of Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. shows, there were many fellow humans who thought about us and wanted to be our friends. I feel honored to have met Ms. Gray, Jr. and I take the opportunity to thank her one more time on behalf of all Albanians. When poetry speaks, we should be silent and rejoice in it’s magic, therefore my words shall end here and we shall read Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.’s “Albania” — each for him- or herself.
Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.
On Sunday I went to Albania.
No one understood, clearly, at first, why I (or anyone) would go to Albania.
Except my father, who knew at once: “Because, before, you couldn’t go to
It had never occurred to me, before, to actually go to Albania.
For years it was there, a Mars, the ultimate hole in the atlas: Albania.
Our government said you couldn’t go to Albania.
Passports self-vaporized, I thought, if you went to Albania.
The Middle Ages with Missiles, over there in Albania.
And somehow also China, Albania.
But then it was suddenly Sunday, forty years later, and it was right
there. I was right next to Albania.
There’s a thin strait, with small islands. You pay a ferryman to cross to
Before, people who tried to swim away were shot by men in trenches and
towers guarding Albania.
Everyone was surprised when I left, alone, for Albania.
“Given her history, were you worried when your mother went off to Albania?”
“No. Well, maybe a little,” they said. “She had never mentioned Albania.”
When I came back everyone asked about Albania.
They said, “What did you see in Albania?”
I began to reply but that was enough of Albania.
Perhaps it was hard for them. The idea of Albania.
Maybe they never had an Albania.
They weren’t panicked. They didn’t ask, “What will we do, now that we
can go to Albania?”
It’s been a few days now. It’s as if nothing happened. As if I never went to
The chart shows two ports and several small harbors but from this far
offshore there are no lights anywhere on the coast of Albania.
As we move north, somewhere to starboard, steep and with snow, is