Portraits is a 360-degree look at Albanian Exile
by - Geralda Cela

Nora Selmani is a London-based writer and poet who has just released her first collection of poetry – Portraits, which focuses on the Albanian exile from a 360-degree angle. Drawing upon her own experiences, family members and her parents we caught up with Nora to find out a bit more about her first collection.

Tell us a bit about the project – what was the idea behind it?

Portraits is my first printed collection of poetry. It’s probably most accurate to say that the seeds of the poems in this collection were sown during my undergraduate degree which was in English with Creative Writing. During my final year, as a part of my final year project, I put together a series of poems focused on Albanian exile and how it might possibly be communicated in English. Some of these poems drew on Albanian folk music, others borrowed from my parents and other family members, and others related to my own experience as a second-generation Kosovar immigrant. I played with tropes commonly found in exile literature more broadly (those of food, home, motherhood and language in particular) in order to best write myself into the existing tradition.

Some of those poems have made it into Portraits, I like to think this collection is a more refined take on those themes I was exploring and is, in some ways, truer to myself and my current poetic interests, which go beyond strict explorations of exile and diaspora. Many of these poems take inspiration from and make explicit reference to my upbringing but others are vignettes unrelated to the question of the diaspora, hence the name Portraits – these poems are sketches almost, illustrating life’s many facets.

 

Image courtesy of Artist

 

What themes did you want to portray with this project and why?

The main themes of this chapbook are those of homesickness, exile, loss but also those of discovery, homecoming and joy. However, there are a few other things I think it’s worth discussing in relation to these themes.

Firstly, the Kosovar-Albo diaspora is still pretty new – though Albanians as a people have experienced exile for many generations, for example, Albanian literary great Naim Frashëri might be considered a diaspora poet – and only now are their narratives being shared outside of a documentary-style and political science discourse. My intention was to contribute in some meaningful way to the small body of Kosovan Albanian literature in English – to articulate my experiences and take control of them, but also to share snippets of Albanian culture with an English-speaking audience.

A lot of these poems consider family because my own link to Kosova is forged through my grandparents, and because watching my grandfather age and his eventual passing affected me quite profoundly. Others also try to implicitly explore the intersection of gender and immigration. These heavier themes are interspersed with poems that consider acceptance after grief and the sweetness of romantic love among other things. I think there’s something here for everyone.

What has your creative process been like? 

It’s difficult for me to describe the creative process but I can say that a good portion of the poems came after visits to Kosova and several came after my grandfather’s passing. It’s very much touch and go. Sometimes I’ll bang out work in the space of a few days then nothing for months.

I’m not really the kind of person who has a manuscript idea then writes to that idea, I prefer to write poems then look for similar threads and themes for grouping later on, which is effectively what happened here with Portraits.

 

Image courtesy of the artist

 

Anything you’ve learnt about yourself during this project 

How much work I’ve actually produced over the past few years and how much I’ve still got left to say!

When will it be out? 

It’s currently available to pre-order from Lumin’s website here and will be available in the next couple of weeks. It’s also going to be available at the Porridge – issue two launch on 6th October at Theatre Deli in London. More details can be found here.