Anna Gréki

Working on my Maghrebian anthology project — a very slow, long-term process — I came across an Algerian poet whose name I had heard but whose work I hadn’t seen, and even now only know through half a dozen poems. Born 14 march 1931 in Batna in a French family, Colette Anna Grégoire grew up in the small town of Menaâ in the heart of the Aurès mountains amidst a Chaoui Berber community and married an Algerian named Melki (thus her writer’s pseudonym, Anna Gréki). Her adolescence was marked by extreme poverty but also by the traditions of mutual aid, solidarity and dignity of the Chaoui community. She considered herself fully Algerian and unhesitantly joined the fight for the liberation of Algeria from French colonialism. In 1957 she was arrested by general Massu’s feared paratroopers and jailed in the infamous Barberousse prison in Algiers. Due most likely to her French origins, she was eventually expulsed from Algeria — only to return after independence, but sadly, tragically to die from a hemorrhage in childbirth in 1965.

It may be unfair, but I cannot help but draw some sort of parallel with the similarly tragic fate of another foreign-born writer who joined the Algerian struggle but died en route — Franz Fanon. Fanon, of course, is and remains much better known, maybe because, half a dozen years older, he was able to complete more of his work which was that of a political theorist, while the work of the woman poet was cut short by her untimely death, leaving us with only two collections of poetry, both out of print.

I couldn’t find an image of Gréki — the picture on top of this post is a reproduction of a painting by the great Algerian woman painter Baya Mahieddine). Here is a first English version of one of Anna Gréki’s poems:

THE CAMP (written 1958 – Barberousse Jail, Algiers)

Berrouaghia, Camp du Maréchal, Lodi,
Béni-Messous, Paul Cazelles, Saint-Leu,
Ben-Aknoun, Aflou, I can’t remember them all,
Our geography book
Contains pictures that fly in its face

The pupils no longer need counting boards
They learn to count adding the dead of their deserted quarter
Left to the women lost in outsized houses
And bring the morning daffodils to their pre-school teacher.
The little shepherds glued to the flanks of the Atlas mountains
Have lost their flocks
But guard men
Among the lentiscs and cane-apple trees

The long-eye-lashed camels coming from Biskra
Emerge at the drinking trough in Batna
Carrying a hip-shot sky
Emerge one by one near the military camp
Smack in the middle of the soldiery
Eyes downcast.

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2 Responses

  1. Kora von Wittelsbach says:

    Thank you for this. I teach at Cornell University, and we’ll be reading one of Gréki’s poems at a poetry night today. She really should be translated into English.

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