the 26:50 ball rolling with the Albanian writer Musine Kokalari. I was nine
years old in 1960. My parents’ idea of a Sunday afternoon out in the car was to
visit and befriend inmates in prisons all over
Musine was born in 1917, and following a literary degree at the
Virtually all her work was destroyed – but I did find shreds online. She was a highly articulate and incisive writer, passionate about
Having only 50 words to play with, I hunted for a metaphor to conjure up a compelling picture and stumbled across a single heartbreaking fact. When Musine was posthumously declared a ‘Martyr for Democracy’ by the President of Albania, they exhumed her body and found her wrists had been tied with barbed wire. This act summed up the malignant thuggery that still governs so many repressive dictatorships, but also the fantasy that you can suppress ideas by killing the words. The other device that delivered a dramatic wallop, was to write the poem from the point-of-view of the regime and the smug assumption that they had the power to control people beyond the grave.