Tengour’s “Exile is my Trade” Reviewed
Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader, edited & translated by Pierre Joris (Black Widow Press Modern Poetry 2012) (Paperback)
To this reader, Exile Is My Trade turned out to be a truly surprising and affecting volume of poetry and essays to come out of North Africa. The writing is modern and free from cultural bias. It cuts through the cultural contexts that it occupies and fluidly connects forms of expression with consciousness.
Syntactically challenging at times, the poems push past perspicacious ‘knowingness’ through what I’ll call ‘neuronal episodes.’ The result is that the writing feels automatic – and magical. The magic in Tengour’s writing feels coincidental and powerful, and therefore, authentic.
These poems and essays – masterfully translated and edited by Pierre Joris, who reveals an uncanny precision in rendering them into English – are absolutely contemporary and timeless. Jumpcuts and enjambments surprise for how they push a line of thinking or wordplay forward, with echoes and traces of everything that led up to them still sort of intact.
Here you can find history and cultural difference and a reflective matrix of things inner and outer that crosscut thousands of years – or a single moment in time – and hit home.
from CAESURA, VI.f.:
Indeed, at the end of his assiduous retreat to learn from the mouth of the stars and the wind, the one who alone has recognized his gift to say, comes to submit his offering to acknowledged judges.
The mutism of the trace remains a required beginning. Everyone does what he can to keep the audience breathless.
What is said belongs to convention: the painting of the loved one as well as the praise of the clan or the salacious confidences.
“What’s the point? she says. All I hear is disarray and helplessness. An agony. Exile is sterile. Where is life?”
It is here.
When the poem is said and the sentence falls.
Tengour is obviously aware of the kitschy, ‘exotic’ take on his origins from outside – and sense of ruin – from inside, and he addresses and cajoles that. In his deft management of all of that, he declares his place as an exile because of and in spite of that nomadic location, supplicating and damning that view while never losing sight of where there might still be to go.