A pleasure right now here in the turmoil of virus to sit down & read through the latest Abdellatif Laâbi collection of poems, excellently translated by Peter Thompson, & published by Dialogos in Nola.
As the publisher’s website states, “English speakers can now join Africans and Africa scholars in recognizing Abdellatif Laâbi as Morocco’s preeminent living poet.” I would qualify this by saying “preeminent francophone poet” given the great arabophone & beberophone poets the country counts. Laâbi “is winner of France’s Prix Goncourt and the Grand Prix de La Francophonie, a poet who shares the stage with the best-selling novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun. This recognition has been an uncertain journey, first interrupted by imprisonment, then accelerated by great productivity in the years that Laâbi has lived in France. Laâbi’s fame, and his troubles, grew in the 1960s when he founded the journal Souffles. It was, at first, a venue for Moroccan writers and not a forum for the politics that would attract the government’s ire. When this journal, and the journal Anfas, became more political, Laâbi was arrested in 1972. There are numerous allusions to his imprisonment and torture in the work.” Perishable Poems is a quiet volume, less suggestive and startling than receptive, like a fifty-eight year old man’s reevaluation of life. These poems gently question the yield of disparate episodes in a long life, and of experiences more harrowing than most of us can understand. It has now been thirty-six years since Laâbi’s release from prison, but the passions or that memory and the disappointments of Arab Spring still shine a light both human and harsh on authoritarianism, and on the life that flowers again after the cruelest repression.”
The second time I opened the book at random I came across this little poem taking up all of page 165:
(Abdellatif Laâbi, Paris 2018 at the Marché de la Poésie)