Category Archives: Translations

French-language poetry from Africa and the Arab world 

african poetry

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The editor of The High Window would like to thank Patrick Williamson and his team of translators for all their hard work in putting together this supplement of poetry intranslation. [Ed.]

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INTRODUCTION

Curating this supplement was a great pleasure, and a special thanks to Tahar Bekri for guiding my selection. I am grateful to the contemporary poets, many of whom I know personally, for their kind contributions, and to my fellow translators for their exceptional work.

This supplement endeavours to present representative poetic voices in French-speaking countries of Africa and the Arab World. For it is an anomaly to separate North Africa from Sub-Saharan Africa. The poetry included here is written in French, for evident historical reasons, but clearly only one dimension of an overall poetic landscape shared with other national languages: Arabic, Fula, Bambara, Berber, Wolof, etc.

Past generations are represented by Leopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), a keystone of French-language poetry from the region and spokesperson for Négritude, Tchicaya U Tam’si (Republic of the Congo), much influenced by Surrealism but a critique of Négritude, and North African poets Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine (Morocco) and Malek Haddad (Algeria), both of whom were exiled in France. Exile, resistance and colonialism are some of the themes underlying much of the poetry represented here.

Contemporary poets: Tahar Bekri (Tunisia), Tanella Boni (Ivory Coast), Abdellatif Laâbi (Morocco), Vénus Khoury-Ghata (Lebanon), Samira Negrouche (Algeria), Nimrod (Chad), Gabriel Mwènè Okoundji (Republic of the Congo), and Amadou Lamine Sall (Senegal). Many of their poems and translations here are new and previously unpublished. (PW).

The Poets

Tahar BekriLeopold Sédar SenghorTanella BoniNimrodMalek HaddadSamira NegroucheLamine Amadou SallAbdellatif LaâbiMohammed Khaïr-EddineVénus Khoury-GataGabriel Mwènè OkoundjiTchicaya U Tam’si

The Translators

Gerald Moore • Patrick Williamson • Conor Bracken • Nancy Naomi Carlson • Catherine Maigret Kellogg • Jake Syersak • Yann Lovelock


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Tahar Bekri: Two poems translated by Patrick Williamson

bekritaharphotobio

AFGHANISTAN

If music were to die
If love is the work of Satan
If your body is your prison
If the whip is what you know how to wield
If your heart is your beard
If your truth is a veil
If your refrain is a bullet
If your song is a funeral prayer
If your falcon is a crow
If your look is brother to dust

How can you love the sun in your lair?

If your sky detests kites
If your soil is a minefield
If your wind is thickened by powder
And not fecund pollen
If your mulberry tree is a gallows
If your door is a barrage
If your bed is a trench
If your house is a coffin
If your river flows with blood
If your snow is a cemetery

How can you love the water in the river?

If your mountains submit
Humiliated and humbled
Their backs unjust citadels
Their guts disembowelled to harden stone
If your valley is not to fuel your dream
Like a rose in the zephyr
If your clay is kneaded by grief
Not to raise a school
Like an apricot tree in flower
If your reed is not a qalam

How can you live in the light?

If your labour is seed for scarecrows
Craven cache for poppies
If your horse is enslaved by its blinders
Scorns the flight of flutes in the air
If your valley vomits its sapphires
To the warlords
If the braids of women are ropes
If your stadium is a slaughterhouse
If your path is invisible
If your night is a tomb for the stars

How can you promise the moon?

If Genghis Khan is your master
If your child is the offspring of Timur
If your face is faceless
If your sabre is your executioner
If your epic is ruins and vultures
If all the rain cannot wash your forefinger
If your desire is dead wood
If your fire is ash
If your flame is smoke
If your passion is grenades and cannon

How can you seduce the dove at the window?

If your village is a casern
Not a nest for swallows
If your house is a cave
If your source is a mirage
If your dress is your shroud
If death is your mausoleum
If your Koran is a turban
If your prayer is war
If your paradise is hell
If your soul is your sombre gaoler

How can you love the spring?

(Previously published in The Parley Tree, French-speaking Poetry from Africa and the Arab World (bilingual English/French edition) Arc Publications, 2012.  Set to music as ‘If Music Were to Die’, Tahar Bekri & Pol Huellou,-Goasco Music. Text in Arabic and French (Tahar Bekri). Translated in English (Patrick Williamson), Gaelic (Nuala Ni Dhomnaill), German (Françoise Trabut) and Breton (Louis Jacques Suignard). Link here.)

IMPATIENT DREAMS (BOOK I: EXTRACTS)

I see, Hamlet, the dead piled up
as logs for the blazing inferno,
vultures, ancient desert, and abandoned bones,
through my cravings, my skull beseeched the dew,
and these poppies that never leave my side.

– –

The shades reviving the haunches
of sleeping women, he embraced the indolent
owlet moth, pearls polished by cloistered
clamour, in the tumult of blades, outpouring
his revolts in shreds, fires never halted
by shipwrecks.

– –

Boabdil/Abu ‘Abdallah loser of Granada, he furrowed
the edges of treacherous defeats, wreck after
wreck, the ports are consoled, the crows that
rob fields of their gleaming lights cannot love
flowering stalks, but only the dark blood
of dead straws.

– –

He inhabited faraway lands,
all the earth for a bed, the hours
like drums resound in solitary
forests, where such beauty spreads,
startled tomb coal has embellished,
tell the pine tree to be quiet.

– –

Like a whirling dervish, he wandered the earth,
it turned on its axis, and so did he,
it was boundless, and so was he, from his breast
he created oceans, the shores banished, worn
and worn away, erosion for the duel.

– –

Amidst a yellow haze he explored
the limbos of his memories, an inconsolable
walker, birds of prey suspended
from his eyelids, kites against gulls,
and the sea, always the sea guilty
of so many winged departures.

(First published in French as Les Songes impatients, Ed. L’Hexagone, Montréal, 1997
Second edition, ASPECT, Nancy, 2004. Published by permission of the author.)

Tahar Bekri was born at Gabès in Tunisia in 1951. He writes in French and Arabic and lives in Paris. He has published about thirty works (poetry, essays, art books). His poetry has been translated into various languages and is the subject of academic works and artistic creations. Honorary Maître de Conférences at Université de Paris X-Nanterre. Benjamin Fondane International Award for Francophone literature, 2018; Prix de Rayonnement de la langue et de la littérature françaises, the Académie Française, 2019. His latest publications include: Désert au crépuscule, Al Manar, Paris, 2018; Le Livre du souvenir, Ed. Elyzad-Poche, Tunis, 2016. Forthcoming publication: Par-delà les lueurs, Al Manar, 2021.

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Leopold Sédar Senghor: One poem translated by Gerald Moore

leopold

(Photo credit: UNESCO / Dominique Roger)

EXTRACT FROM ‘ÉLÉGIE DE MINUIT’ (ELEGY TO MIDNIGHT)

Summer splendid Summer, who suckles the poet with the milk of your light
I who thrust like the young wheat in Spring, who intoxicate myself
xxxwith the greenness of waters,
with the green rustling in the gold of Time
Ah! I can no longer stand your light, the light of lamps, your atomic light
which shatters all my being
Can no longer stand the light of midnight. The splendour of honours is like a Sahara
A huge void without dune or stony plateau without grasses, without flutter of eyelid,
xxxwithout thump of the heart.
Thus twenty-four hours on twenty-four, and the eyes wide open like those
of Father Cloarec crucified on the stones by the pagans of Joal worshippers of Snakes.
In my eyes the Portuguese lighthouse which turns, yes twenty-four hours on twenty-four
A precise and ceaseless mechanism, until the end of time.

I leap from my bed, leopard over a snare, sudden blast of the Simoun that chokes me
xxxwith sand:
—Ah! If I could only sink myself in the dung and the blood, in nothingness.
I circle around amid my books, which gaze upon me from the depths of their eyes
Six thousand lights which burn twenty-four hours in twenty-four.
I am erect, lucid strangely lucid
And I am handsome, like the hundred-metres sprinter, like the black Mauritanian stallion
xxxin rut.
I carry in my blood the stream of seeds to fertilize all the plains of Byzantium
I am the Lover and the locomotive with well-oiled piston.

[…]

Sweetness of a dagger straight in the heart, right up to the hilt
Like remorse. I am not certain of death.
And if this were Hell, the absence of sleep the desert of the Poet
This grief of living, this death of not dying.
The anguish of darkness, this passion for death and for light
Like moths at night against the storm-lantern, amid the horrid rotting of virgin forests.

Lord of the light and of the dark
Thou lord of the Cosmos, let me repose beneath Joal-of-the Shadows
That I may be reborn to the Kingdom of Childhood rustling with dreams
That I may be shepherd to my shepherdess among the sea-flats of Dyilôr where the Dead xxxflourish
That I may explode in applause when Téning-Ndyaré and Tyagoum-Ndyaré enter the circle
That I may dance like the Athlete to the drums for the Dead of the year.
This only a prayer. You know my peasant’s patience.
The light of dawn will come
I will sleep the sleep of death that nourishes the Poet . . . .
I will sleep at dawn, my pink doll in my arms
My doll with green gold eyes . . .

(From Poèmes. Paris: Seuil, 1973. [Élégies: 167-213]. This translation initially appeared as part of an article entitled Senghor: Poet of the Night in Research in African Literatures: Bloomington Vol 33 No. 4, Indiana University Press, 2002. All efforts have been made to contact the copyright owners to secure permission to reproduce these translations. Indiana University Press has allowed a claim of fair use for extracts of the English components in their control. I strongly recommend consulting the full article, which can be found here on JSTOR.

Léopold Sédar Senghor (9 October 1906 – 20 December 2001) was a Senegalese poet, politician and cultural theorist who, for two decades, served as the first president of Senegal (1960–80). Ideologically an African socialist, he was the major theoretician of Négritude. Senghor was also the founder of the Senegalese Democratic Bloc party. Senghor was the first African elected as a member of the Académie française. He won the 1985 International Nonino Prize in Italy. He is regarded by many as one of the most important African intellectuals of the 20th century. ‘Élégie de Minuit’ (Elegy to Midnight) initially appeared in Nocturnes (1961).

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Tanella Boni: Five poems
translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson and Catherine Maigret Kellogg

tanella_boni_c_christophe_delory_0

(Photo Credit: Christophe Delory)

You pace the gates of night
All senses lit up
As if you had left
The land of shadows
That you abandon
At daybreak

You will restore your spirits
Beside the nature-poetess
Who greets you like a queen

You the traveller who awakens
On daylight’s bed at the garden’s edge
You don’t know in which sky to land on the moon
When you hear the Earth’s call

*

Your place calls you back
It knows where you live
It names your neighbours
They are humans
Insects
Trees
Grasses
Flowers

It’s the wooded savannah
The dying great forest
The glaciers on borrowed time
Your home is the Earth
Where you live among the green
And all the colours of the rainbow
Weaving the beauty of broad daylight

*

Here you are back at high noon
You’ve forgotten the mood
Of great uncertainties
You want to wear the pagne of hope
That’s slow to be born
But the choice is no longer yours

You must bring together
Under the same sky
The sun and the moon
Who don’t look at each other
Who don’t speak to each other
Coveting the same power
To rule night and day
Far apart
Without ever meeting

*

For you who govern
Our world from on high
The humans listening to you
Have lost the keys to their houses

You enjoy making zigzags scattering
The long history of the land of the living
Who no longer know which Earth to inhabit
Here they move about
With their age-old soles
That weigh as much as their hopes

They roam the meanderings of time
That never did them any favours
Here they are setting out for the umpteenth time
On the ocean of illusions
That rock their great dreams
Do they know where to land
Perhaps by the side of the road
That unravels thread by thread the dignity
They carry at arm’s length

*

You who imagine
A new land is possible
You spread your ingenious wealth
That no longer knows the reasons
It’s scattered and squandered
Tangled up in useless words
Like grains of an endless game
That keeps your desires alert

But you’ve forgotten the path of the smile
The only solution that cares for sharing
On the borderless Earth we inhabit

(Unpublished poems (2021). Published with permission of the author.)

Tanella Boni is an Ivorian poet, and novelist. She is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Félix Houphouët-Boigny d’Abidjan. President of the Association of writers of the Côte d’Ivoire from 1991 to 1997, and organizer of the International Poetry Festival in Abidjan. She had lived in Abidjan for more than 20 years, but the civil war raging in the region forced her to leave her country temporarily. Since 2013, Boni has divided her time between Abidjan and Paris. An ambassador for African literature, the arts and an African revival based on dialogue and tolerance, she is not afraid to denounce oppression and violence, especially against women. In 2009, she won the Antonio Viccaro International Poetry Prize. The title of her 2017 Là où il fait si clair en moi expresses her quest for light and hope.

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Nimrod: Four poems translated by Patrick Williamson

Nimrod © F. Mantovani Gallimard cropped
(Photo © F. Mantovani Gallimard)

MOTHER

xxxxxxMother… xxThexx now-vacant xxplace xxof xxthexx father xxoffers xxno
hold, neither to the air nor the will that contradicts the moment
xxxxxxAndxxxyetxxxincreasesxxxitxxxbyxxxa xxxkindlyxxxstrength…. xxxThen
a beloved aunt comes along,
xxxxxxHerxxxcharmingxxxbewitchingxxxwords, xxxlike xxxher
blood-print loincloth,
xxxxxxAll xxcrispness xxfallenxx under xxherxx so-slender waist. The stamp
of long journeys marks my look;
xxxxxxForeign xxxit xxxisxxx toxxx once-familiar xxxthings.xxx I xxxcryxxx out
for a hello, for a cardamom
xxxxxxTea xxxshared xxxunder xxxthexxx neem, xxxwhichxxx is xxxlosing
its leaves, little golden pearls
xxxxxxFashionedxxx byxxx anxxx untimely xxxautumn.xxx Its trunk
silently peels.

Paris, 16 June 1992

SPRING II

xxxxxxThexx heightxx of xxMay, xxmy xxburied xxchildhood xxexhumed
— its noises and fury
xxxxxxIn xxunisonxx with xxthexx flowers...xx Thexx shade xxisxx cool, xxandxx the
Luxembourg garden
xxxxxxRecapturesxx the xxsummer xxscene. xxLovexx isxx measured xxfinally
by the ties that bind us to others;
xxxxxxIt xxbrightens xxanxx independencexx hard-won xxunbeknownxx toxx us.
We are hot,
xxxxxxA warmth xxthatxx delights xxus! xxWe xxshare xxit xxwithoutxx resenting
anyone,
xxxxxxBountiful with our energies recharged forever.
xxxxxxAfrica restored to me – strength in its own strength

Paris, 15 May 1992

CLOUDS

I

The clouds discharge their bulge onto the thatched cottages. They conjure up their loneliness, their wandering, their disinheritance. I reach oblivion.

II

Densify xxxyourxxx syntax, xxxvacantxxx deities.xxx I xxxapprove xxxof
your exodus towards the vast skies. Hospitality is a sound that mends its ways.

III

Clouds, xxxacceptxxx my xxxunmooring. xxxI xxxwould xxxsoxxx lovexxx a
river to water it. Oh! That, at each stage dispensed to my transhumance,
rest would anchor them to a roadstead.

PURGE THE NIGHT

You purged the night that was within you
Well before you reached the threshold.
The sky cleared up like a tree
Appealing to dreams
Stumps of grasses bursting with hope.

The night clears the blue smoke of thatched cottages
That warm our souls, convey our secrets.
And you think you’ve found the way
To this house glimpsed near a grove
When echoes weave in you
The hinterland this garden.
Its lamp in the centre of lots
Alarms the dead.

(Previously unpublished. Published here with permission of the author.)

Nimrod is a poet, novelist and essayist from Chad. He has published more than thirty works to date, including La nouvelle chose française, Rosa Parks, Non à la discrimination raciale, L’or des rivières, and Babel Babylone. He has received the Benjamin Fondane, Édouard Glissant, Ahmadou Kourouma, Max Jacob, Charmettes/Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pierrette Micheloud and Guillaume Apollinaire Awards. Notable recent works: J’aurais un royaume en bois flotté, anthology 1989-2016 (Poésie/Gallimard, 2017); 120 nuances d’Afrique, with Bruno Doucey and Christian Poslaniec (Bruno Doucey, 2017); Gens de brume, story, Actes Sud, 2017; La traversée de Montparnasse, novel, Gallimard, 2020; Petit éloge de la lumière nature, poems, Obsidiane/Le Manteau & la Lyre, 2020; Le temps liquide, stories, Gallimard, 2021.

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Malek Haddad: Four poems translated by Conor Bracken

Malek-Haddad2

EXILE’S ADVENT: IT RAINS

Shadow with its collar up
It’s raining
I’m sixteen whenever it rains
The city is afraid of strangers
Prefers its habits
I walk
I loiter
I have your letter to reread
I have my letter to intone
I am a continent dreaming of drift.

The men came to my house
In Constantine
They came at night
It’s always night when they rearrange your dreams

My mother’s afraid
And my house closes its eyes

I am the traveller of rococo stages
Of the garden that smiles
The attic that mulls
I scare myself up a little home every couple months.
It rains
The city is afraid of strangers
Prefers its habits…

GIVE ME BACK THE VALLEY

The snow, to please me, refused to melt
It’s in my eyes, a mimosa gone solar
A footstep travels down dark alleys and dells
The fountain can testify I was no liar

Back in those days love had women’s hands
November read from books abridged badly
My heart, a pilgrim, tapped the soul’s phones
While a yellow light in the Café des Amis
Clarified the universe that Thursdays evaded…
Scrawny chimera, guitar half-starved
I made mornings with thread too blue for its size
I believed the sky flowed out of your eyes

Back in those days words were obedient
And evidence guarded its primary truth
The sea meant blue and blood meant red
And the rivers poured down their primordial routes

Who will bring me the flute and the musical wind?

I was the local with the heavy straw hat
The storm couldn’t deny a thing the sky said
My grandfather was born in a machine gun nest
A French marshal slept with the empire in his head
From the vantage of youth, the Soummam was blue
The snow joked it earned each peak it didn’t climb
Inside their long patience the fig trees stewed
The hope of a fruit as large as the crime

GIVE ME BACK THE VALLEY THAT AN ANCESTOR MADE UP

The earth is red now
And the river is fed up
The fig trees’ despair is hard to fathom
Calamity grows higher than a tree left behind…

The earth is red now
And children will tell stories about how
Stunned they are to have for a diaper
A flag which long ago from the corner
Of their soul the old verses sang the most beautiful lines…

IT WILL BE WRITTEN

Dove on the roof
Who
let you be a hoop in air?
My voice will be serene
I will have different habits
I will have to dream
In the end it will come to us
This spring foretold to the martyr the rose
In the end it will come
This morning newspapers proclaiming above the fold
That hands brought together have lots of talent
That our prayers have been answered
That the dead go on in peace
In the end it will come to us
The fearful awe that follows a requiem
The sky of my homeland handed to another bird
Joy will light up once the firing ends
The freedom to believe in palmistry
The fellahin’s will tracing our every crease
In the end it will come to us
The moment that says: I smell Freedom
I carry into tomorrow the past’s warmth
In the end they’ll come to us
The choruses conjured up there on the mountain
In the end it will be a bird
This bird sketched
In the huge Waste of the sky.
This politic love at the end of certainty
Wrinkles and roads
Barbed-wire over the gaze
He who slinks away
He who is slaughtered
In the eyes of my mother
In the heart of the Casbah
This politic love like a woman’s kiss
HAPPINESS MY FRIENDS IS AN EXACT SCIENCE
AND WE ARE CORRECT
Survivors
Pupils of my eyes
I know:
The final measurement is taken from life
In the end we will have
Just enough time to notice…
Rockfaces
I understand!
Erosion by insult and indifference
As for you over there you orphans of music
You already know:
DON’T KNOCK SO LOUD
I AM NOT HERE.

(From Ecoute et je t’appelle, Maspéro, 1961; second publication. Bouchêne, Alger, 2003. All efforts were made to contact the copyright owners for permission to translate these poems.)

Malek Haddad, born in Constantine in 1924, died in Algiers in 1978. His work, written between 1956 and 1961, was a song of love and freedom for Algeria, still colonised. He lived in exile in France, encountering media censorship given the war, but publishing in anti-colonial journals and literary journals. He also endured linguistic exile, as he could not write in Arabic. His writing is akin to the French poetry of resistance and includes many Arab or Berber words, as he seeks to assert an Algerian identity. Works by Haddad: Le malheur en danger, 1956; La dernière impression, 1958; Je t’offrirai une gazelle, 1959; L’élève et la leçon, 1960; Le Quai aux fleurs ne répond plus, 1961; Ecoute et je t’appelle, poémes; précédé de Les zéros tournent en rond: essai, 1961.

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Samira Negrouche: One five-part section of a poem
translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson and Catherine Maigret Kellogg

samira

’11’ from TRACES

In the space between us, there’s so much.
There’s what’s said and never will be said.
There’s what’s written and never will be written.
There’s what’s thought, there’s also what’s ignored.

In the space between us, there’s a flock of impossibles
like birdsong we can’t transcribe.

There’s the weight of time, there’s the weight of histories
we don’t share.

– –

In the space between us, there are also the accidents overwhelming us, those that sometimes open a door. We sometimes see this door and sometimes choose to pass through.

If I speak to you, I speak through what we lack. This lack is our chance, the only true excuse for venturing out on the road.
The impulse comes from what we call instinct, virus, inner voice…
But wouldn’t we most want to bring to life what we lack?

We draw lines where they weigh us down.

– –

And because we drew them, now we can
erase them, letting the sea return to its swaying.

I came from an earlier time
to remind you of the promise of dawn.
Every child
is the child of the renewed dawn
who will teach us again the profound Song
the intimate rhythm of our cells.

I came from that time that amasses horizons and
sifts through them, one by one, with care
giving each its measure.

– –

I came from the Algiers door
to reach the peak of Toubkal.
I came from the manuscripts of Timbuktu
bringing the word to the sages of Kilimanjaro.
I came from the N’Djamena door
I almost got sunstroke in Cotonou.
I was madly in love in Zanzibar.
I came through the Cape Town door
unable to read the meaning of stars
I dreamt of crossing that triangle
that could take me from Cairo
to Saguia el Hamra.

I entered through the Gorée door one hundred times
where I left a rosary of tears.

– –

I entered through Gorée where I tried to come back to life.

Solio…
I entered through so many doors
passed through so much of myself.

Solio…
Everywhere I was told about wounds
and pardons
those we no longer wait for
those that one day will come
those we’ll pretend not to owe.

People often spoke to me straight in the eyes.

– –

Solio…
I came back from my crossing to share my last prayer
with you
Solio…
God is a black woman with legs covered in soot
Solio…
make sure to honour these soot-covered legs
Solio…
and so, you will be.

(From Traces (Fidel Anthelme X) Published with permission of the author.)

Translators’ note: ‘Solio’ is a word from the Malinke oral tradition in West Africa, used by griots to ask for the audience’s attention. This word also echoes words from other languages and cultures.

Samira Negrouche was born in Algiers, where she lives. A doctor by training, she devotes herself to writing. Sensitive to borders, whether physical, linguistic or symbolic, she is particularly fond of interdisciplinary creations. This has resulted in artists’ books, with Marc Giai-Miniet and Ali Silem among others, and shows such as Quai 2I1 (musicians Marianne Piketty and Bruno Helstofferà), and Traces (choreographer Fatou Cissé). Her publications include À l’ombre de Grenade, Éditions Marty, Le Jazz des oliviers, Éditions du Tell, Six arbres de fortune autour de ma baignoire, Éditions Mazette, Quai 2I1, partition à trois axes, Éditions Mazette and Traces, Fidel Anthelme X. In 2020, The Olive Trees’ Jazz and other poems, translated and introduced by US poet Marilyn Hacker was published by Pleiades Press.

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Lamine Amadou Sall: Two poems translated by Patrick Williamson

sall

(Photo credit: Le Quotidien)

MY COUNTRY IS NOT A DEAD COUNTRY

“Everyone here is a hero
before they are born” Pablo Neruda

xxxxMy country is not a nocturnal baobab
blackened grass a cold flower
anaemic fruit a land on its knees
xxxxMy country is not a road cut off
a pot-holed road surface a muddy sky
xxxxMy country is not the pressing need of vultures
it is close on the heels of tigers and
the lion still has a burning jaw and fiery belly
xxxxMy country is not a dead country
yet its memory is dead
dead the blood in the men’s hut those in a hurry
dead the dream of those who believed they’d tamed the alphabet running naked in the streets
and children no longer even throw stones at this shred of a dream…
xxxxMy country is only dead in the haste of those who walk
the paths of a dull-eyed mirage the cupid horizon
xxxxMy country is only dead among the sons of impatience
the malicious sons of politics those crazed with power
amidst the malaria and swamp fever of the urns
the hunchbacked sons of politics the shepherds of the future
so tired already like the old Peugeot of the jazz years
xxxxMy country is only dead in the kings of high noon and
princes of oracles that ripen thrones within
before corn and the peanut
terraces of gold before thatched roofs of the Sine
the satin chair placed before the anthill stool
xxxxMy country is only dead in the gifted sons of bush fires
that devour everything from leper refuges to the prosperous bank gates
xxxxThis country my country is only dead among the dead from before torches
as they are coming they are coming the majestic lamps
the silk armchairs the wool sofas coming
into suburban slums
then come the red and purple curtains
then come the rare bronzes pictures by Oussouye children
books by children from the Fouta
then come the sourates, the Gregorian chants the libations
then come the women the men of a new century
of a time of hope

xxxxMy country is not a dead country
despite the ants and fatigue the roaches
the torpor the tormented awaking
worn shoes, socks subjected
to hungry rats toes sticking out
xxxxMy country is not dead
despite the papers with end-of-the-world-is-nigh headlines
Africa is declared inapt right up to the end of the world — but still
so fertile with rare orchards —
France is declared accountable for its affection and living alone unrequited love
America’s eyes scared shitless but triumphant in its steely grasp
xxxxMy country is not a dead country
despite empty kitchens in the solitude of an onion
of a greenish potato as well as a malicious gibe
xxxxMy country is not a dead country
a stinking cargo but a high tide of spice and incense
it is alive this country turns & turns over & dances & weeps & sings
in infinite anguish massaged by infinite faith
consoled by a bell a minaret the soft look of an infinite mother
xxxxMy country is not defunct
as life it bears only the heavy steps of a mourning soldier
of an amputated child
as life the ginger smile of a woman honoured for her beauty
it is in fine fettle upright my solemn beautiful and strong country
True such beautiful flowers always die
of an evening or a morning, I can’t remember…
there is just the fragrance they left behind
may this fragrance fill the nostalgia of hearts irrigate the vertigo
be the winder of our senses for our lives nourish the future if not
if not they will really be dead flowers forever dead
dead for nothing and the triumph the day of glory will also be dead
And the monstrous laps of memory that rises up as tragic
as affection beheaded
a brutal curse erected like a lance…
xxxxMy country is not a dead country my country is not a mere whisper
its people with star-studded foreheads and mouths of salt
its people an ocean that no longer approaches
fecund high seas navigable for all the brotherhoods of the world
Everyone here knows why we will still be alive

(Previously published in The Parley Tree, French-speaking Poetry from Africa and the Arab World (bilingual English/French edition) Arc Publications, 2012.)

OUR NEED FOR RIMBAUD

He had the face of jujube trees
The look of termite mounds
His steps drew the dunes of the Sahara
His hut was moonlit, his cathedral the hope of oases
He came from childhood and his land was the world
He wore blue songs like the lips of Timbuktu girls

He played with the wind and the dates of palm trees
His fingers were the silky fabric of the camel drivers’ turbans
His hands were fruitful like the tense of his sentences
His sonorous voice was a festive moon like
The savannas of Africa know how to be the dream
He was the griot of negro princesses’ veins
He was the gallop of roots
He was the high tide of words
He was the house and book of dugout boatmen
The invincible poet who brought French poetry out of the asylum
He had spoken to the wind beyond the Alps, beyond the Pyrenees
He had read the burning tablets of prayers in drunken nights

Pagans
He had slept in Joal, drunk before daybreak the steps of green lion Diogoye’s son

Pilgrim before pilgrims
Before the bush, before gazelles, before the millet-eaters, he danced

With my black ancestors
Before Charleville, he was the child of lightning and mango trees
He had played with elephants and climbed baobabs
He was one ahead of the mountains, jumped fences and visited bushes

Bewitched

Arthur has unruly hair like the storm but soft eyes

He now walks on our palms in our hearts
He holds the candle, he rekindles the flame of our doubts
He invented other hands for us to hold countless other hands

He made a tom-tom out of the piano, a Peul flute from the accordion
He has erased the frontiers of the mind and those in us among

The most ice-cold
He has allayed fears, opened sealed doors, created guest gardens

Out at sea
Rimbaud is with us

He is here, he is there not lying down but upright in our words in our

Memories

He is in our silences, he is in the day, he is in the night

He is preparing the next seasons of the heart for us
The pact of the bear and the lion, the fox and the camel
He has found the right size of the surest love for us
That of words that travel and give us shelter and food

Light and hope

He made of ink, our wine, our milk, our bath, our source of fragrant

Water

His life was a sailboat sailing on sea and land to meet

All blood kin

Rimbaud, a name that sings, that unites, that drinks
Rimbaud so that poetry never gives up or yields its heart

Especially the heart…

Rimbaud, accept that I sing to you, that I dance my feet to you

Between your Negro feet

(From 120 Nuances d’Afrique, anthology edited by Bruno Doucey, Nimrod and Christian Poslaniec, éditions Bruno Doucey, 2017. Published with permission of éditions Bruno Doucey.)

Amadou Lamine Sall, born in Kaolack, Senegal in 1951 is the founder of the African House of International Poetry, and he presides over the International Biennale of Poetry in Dakar, Senegal. Winner in 1991 of the Prix du rayonnement de la langue et de la littérature françaises, awarded by the French Academy. He is the recipient of the 2018 edition of the Tchicaya U Tam’si Prize for African Poetry. He is the author of numerous anthologies of poetry that have been translated into several languages. In October 2008, he wrote several poems about Arthur Rimbaud while he was in residence at the Maison Rimbaud in Charleville-Mézières. Amadou Lamine Sall always writes his poems in free verse, with very little punctuation.

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Abdellatif Laâbi: Three poems translated by Patrick Williamson

abdel

THE FACE OF THE ASSASSIN

To the vivid memory of Samuel Paty

He is a young man
barely out of his teens
The face is pure
far from ugly
It is difficult to read hatred
in his eyes
or love
the thirst for blood
or panic fear
which can be likened
to angel
or devil
No matter how hard we look
we will not find the slightest clue
letting us guess that
behind the human mask
there’s a monster

He is a young man
barely out of his teens
He has a nose
a mouth
a sex
a heart
lungs
hands and feet

He has a mother and a father
brothers and sisters
friends
He eats
defecates
sleeps
dreams
He had a childhood
and at times dreamt of a future
He has memories
scars
language tics
He has laughed
cried
danced maybe

He is a young man
barely out of his teens
He did his research
planned it all out
armed himself with a good knife
singled out his victim
jumped him
and chopped his head off
like this!

To the three eternal riddles:
life
death
love
which we have been stumbling on
since the beginning
a fourth
has been added:

What made one of us
a young man
barely out of his teens
ambush a fellow man
and chop his head off
like this!

OLD FRIEND

We hold on to hope
as long as we can
our old friend
Like us
he’s not so brave anymore
even if he still insists on walking
without a cane
to hide his hand
when it shakes
Like us
thrown into the raging ocean
of atrocities
he somehow manages
to keep his head above water
never lose sight of the horizon
watching for the messenger bird
the life-saving sail
Like us
he clings to
the few hands outstretched
abandons himself
to the music
of the desert inspired
by birds
delighting the trees
of the naked heart
caressed by love’s wing

This is why
whatever happens
we remain loyal to him

I HAVE A FRIEND IN PRISON

I have a friend in prison
I think about him every day
and often get lost…
in his thoughts
Is he the one who, in the evening
after the lights go out
lies down on his straw mattress
or is it me?
Is it him or me
who wanders
haggard
in the courtyard
eats his meagre fare without appetite
holds back his tears
while writing letters
to his beloved?

My friend has been condemned
for apostasy:
a book where, imprudent
like any self-respecting poet
he paid little heed to censorship
and self-censorship
Some rather free words about religion
made in a café
and reported
by a very, very interested tablemate

He has now spent seven years
in prison

and has one more to go
the hardest one if I am to judge
from my experience in such matters
His sentence was accompanied by
eight hundred lashes
he has received more than two thirds
and will have to receive the rest
before his release

My friend
is not always in good spirits
He is past the stage of rage
then cold anger
It’s because he no longer knows
which world he lives in
and feels exiled
among humanity
In the vice of ugliness
he suffocates in
how can he continue
to caress beauty
even if only the idea?
His solitude is more tyrannical
than that
of the vast desert
that surrounds him

I have a friend in prison
and I think of him
today
like any other day

Useful information:
First name: Ashraf
Last name: Fayad
Date and place of birth: 1980, in Gaza
Nationality: none
Status: Palestinian refugee in Saudi Arabia
Place of detention: a prison with an unpronounceable name near Jeddah

(Unpublished poems. From the collection La poésie est invincible,
to be published by Le Castor astral. France. Published with permission of the author.)

Abdellatif Laâbi is a Moroccan poet, novelist and translator. In 1966 he founded the magazine Souffles, which played a considerable role in the literary and cultural renewal of the Maghreb. In 1972, he was arrested because of his ideas and activities as an opponent and sentenced to ten years in prison. Released in 1980, he has lived mainly in France since 1985. Abdellatif Laâbi’s work covers all genres (poetry, novels, theatre, books for young people), as well as essays on culture and politics, and books of interviews. In addition to his work, he has translated many contemporary authors from Arabic. Awards include the Prix Goncourt de la poésie (2009); the Grand Prix de la Francophonie of the Académie Française (2011), and the Mahmoud Darwich Prize for Creation and Freedom (Ramallah 2020).

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Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine: Two poems
translated by Conor Bracken and one poem translated by Jake Syersak

KhairEddine

SAGHO

the bloody morning sprinkled the legends born from dregs
from stars deflowered at full speed
and it lifts my blood like a mustang ringed by eagles
from the high plateau where your fingers fold the sumacs’ fire
to the steppe cracked open by the beaks of ernes
I beat the sky with the questions of my fists
milky morning salt of lilies and agrotis moths
the abyss rewards us with the belly of an antelope slaughtered
in the thunder’s millet
but not a word
not a word if not the flour of lyctus beetles by this masculine weather
and by sheaves the aphids of wind under catnip
too bad so lonely too bad I forge the public flag
of dawn I wipe my eyes with it before entering
the inextricably fair tradition of time

HOROSCOPE

the wheel of heaven kills so many eagles save you
blue blood
straying through this heart anointed with hyena’s brains
simple highways—from the mica leaks a fresh childhood
and skinks my fingers of old nopal
knotted stars and danger in my navels—
old nopal
miscrowned by my routeless dreams of false adulthood
the simoom won’t deign to smooth my hatred
because I talk of hypnagogic transmutations
because I brick thunder into the morning’s grey wall
cadavers—in the fields of basil where I guzzle
the dirty fluid solutions of geologic fears
the oubliette that prickles under my thumbnail
opens backwards
the wheel of heaven and the cheap virgins
by the fetid bars of the cage of my throat
by my voice turning marshy quietly shouldering
the story of a single pearlescent handle
by the sour milk of endless wandering
I will break you pygmy famines
with a rhythm in which the hands are silent
I will crush
sleeping-stiff-man-silos
you will vomit up our white teeth fouling
the onerous dishes with my blessed blood
of the meagre noon out of which heaves my crowded tumulus
land under my tongue
land
like a peasant’s reason
silence sawing at the moon’s heads tumbling
into my serpentine caresses
and chewing on the black lips of the customs agent
spurted out by a half-bastard of a putrid skink
always friendly though
riffraff of every weather
of your rotting seaweed wraps
of your standards
of your sales on names which still keep
one pure crystal burst of the names
of these squats crowded with the twenty legs
of your humidity
land, exit like a wing
Europe fashions you an asthma of sand
and gutters
Europe
with its fatal rat tail
exits in order to hear winter’s final act
no miracle will subdue the wheel of heaven
From Soleil arachnide © Gallimard, 2009

CALCAREOUS CITY(EXTRACT)

for Claude Durand

The sequence of events was right on track the
sequential tracks whipped its non-Circéan shadow
mankind wandered its way through the gibeciere of banks

they say I was king apostle syrinx
voice of the laterite gone unexplored—
my voice was composed in the likeness of thunder
unlike this sommelier in repose
under the cracked-open casks of wine. No—

My voice was rainette porphyry tetrodon
throughout the incommensurable seaweed where nothingness
and roseate hues construe my shadow—into
an uneasy astral body that sutures you
sews you and transforms you into one calcareous city
over the barricades the smoke-rings were more beautiful
than the red breast of an apple whose outburst
is owed to the flowering tridactyles and the
silkworm out of whom slips
the eye of man and the anus of helium
bringing the sun up over my unwavering fingertips
the viper stretches out its neck and I sink my teeth
straight down
into where the sea has
ceased to be a wide-open mouth

into my interior where their death takes shape
force-fed with fucus milk—

An obstruction of my own making inside these stones
where all the curdled she-camels
along with all the misty
milk of my precarious ancestors evaporate into thin air
It dances dances then grows stiff oh
Never has it danced though
it drags a ghostly
hound that haunts me in its wake.

(Published in Ce Maroc! Editions Seuil, 1975. Permission to translate this poem kindly granted by Alexandre Khaïr-Eddine.)

Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine (1941-1995) was a Moroccan Amazigh writer and poet. His first book, Agadir, a novel based on his time working in the city of the same name after a devastating earthquake, was awarded the Enfants Terrible prize, founded by Jean Cocteau, and his subsequent work, including Soleil Arachnide, Ce Maroc!, Le Déterreur, and others earned him renown as the ‘Rimbaud of the Maghreb.’Before his exile in France, he co-founded Souffles, an avant-garde literary magazine committed to decolonising the Maghreb; he also co-founded the Poésie Toute movement with Mostafa Nissabouri. Scorpionic Sun was the first of his books translated into English.

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Vénus Khoury-Gata: Four poems
translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson and Catherine Maigret Kellogg

venus-khoury-ghata-1001420-330-540

***

Barefoot behind this wall
you’re alert to any crunch of a pebble
or rustle of grass

an empty nut this world shaken by your calls
shadows turn their pockets inside out
they’ve stolen nothing
they can do nothing for someone turned to ice

you know you’re in a place made of superimposed strata
that your suffering isn’t one of them
that your immobility isn’t idleness but waiting
for something to happen
you look for a crack to swallow the speck that you are

you’d have carried your body on your back like a sack of coal
if you knew that

(From Eloignez-vous de ma fenêtre, Mercure De France, 2021)

***

Go away from my window
only return after the planet’s permanent closure
when my bones are dry stone
my movements held-back winds

leave without your contours before the lamp’s oil runs out
head between your knees like a dog unloved by its owner
deaf like waterfalls
mute as horned ants living on pebbles
leave without crossing paths with each other
I’ve nailed my shutters
silenced my books
dug out my bed in the spadefuls of earth thrown at the day’s face

I don’t expect any help
nor any solace

(From Eloignez-vous de ma fenêtre, Mercure De France, 2021)

***

He’s at home in this frame he shares with no one
a bit timid leaning against this wall that he seems not to know
his expression has darkened
his body has faded like all that wears out and can be forgotten
the smile white on white
the flower worn in the buttonhole the only visible thing
the watch disappeared
the dead are thieves
should we judge by his faraway gaze and conclude he’s no longer inside of himself
but in the chestnut tree he shook last evening
to make the night spit out the secret of its longevity

hanging from the same nail
he has a view of the same wall
the only one to see it

(From Demande à l’obscurité, Mercure De France, 2020)

FOR JACQUES DARRAS

She locates the forest from the sound of a leaf
locates the sea from a cormorant’s calls to his female

She says the sea has no end like death
like the world she sees from her window when washing the dishes
and wondering about the same questions:

why does her home have just one opening
what was the name of the man who lifted her skirt to make sure she was there
how to recognize him with landscape eyes if ever he returns
and what to say to the lamp that turned itself off when he
knocked her down
drank her

Now older
she wonders how to learn again to bend in love without breaking

(From Demande à l’obscurité, Mercure De France, 2020). All four poems published by permission of the author.

Vénus Khoury-Ghata is a renowned Lebanese poet and writer, resident in France since 1973. She is always divided between two countries and two languages, her mother’s Arabic and French. Author of over thirty collections of poems and as many novels, she received the Grand Prix de Poésie of the French Academy in 2009 and the Goncourt Prize in 2011, and was named a Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur in 2017. Her most recent poetry collection is Éloignez-vous de ma fenêtre, poèmes, Mercure de France, 2021. In a context where poetry prizes are often awarded to men and the French poetic landscape is largely male, leaving talented women poets in the shade, she created a women’s poetry prize,  in 2014, which rewards French poetry and foreign poetry translated into French.

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Gabriel Mwènè Okoundji: Three poems translated by Conor Bracken

Okoundji

Poems for Cettina Rizzo
BLOOD OF MAN, THE BEATING HEART

Every Man has two hands, believe me Cetti, dear friend, my bond
xxxxxx—here, the hand that feeds and here, the hand receiving
the hand that feeds keeps its promise to the day, to time, to life
the receiving hand protects its gesture to spare itself despair

xxxxxxxxxxxxword among words
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxadvent of the root and the howl
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxof the instant within the instant
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe day inside the day
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe night inside the night
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe eternity within eternity

xxxxxxxxxxxxthe breath familiar with the path says:
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa hand with and a hand without share a destiny
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa hand with and a hand without each have five fingers
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxhere are two, here are three and five and five is ten
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx— “who am I?” the hand without asks
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx— “who am I?” the hand with responds
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe one and the other have the same habit, link, and blood
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe one and the other sow the joy the heart seeks out
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxhumanity, justice, love
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxhumility, piety, awareness
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxarrival before the shadow ripples down

every word is a glimmer of the sap beneath the bark
the sap runs, many leaves and flowers are nourished by it
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx— origin of Man between Earth and Heaven –

xxxxxxxxxxxxthe breath familiar with the path says:
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto not bite the hand that feeds
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto not offend the hand that receives
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxmeans the word will never seek asylum in amnesia

every Man has a heart that beats, believe me Cetti, dear friend, my bond
the blood in its cadence through the vein is the cosmos’s pure music
the freedom of stars challenges itself to circulate endlessly
sometimes we are raised beyond the soul’s blood: transcending the self, serenity
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx— dance of an unknown wisdom that flows into wisdom
sometimes we are made to plummet just short of the void: torments of the soul, dishevelment
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx— dance which disowns the dance in the act’s fore-morning

the world is a face—fluid, moving—which changes the faces that witness it
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx—believe me Cetti, dear friend, my bond –
under the sky and on the earth live gods, ancestors, the everlasting Unknown
xxxxxxxxxxxxGod and man, first there is thought
xxxxxxxxxxxxthe Ancestor of man is no doubt his soul
xxxxxxxxxxxxthe Unknown never names itself, it waves.

SNAIL AND MAN SCALE THE MOUNTAIN

Summer 2021.
The snail on his side, the man on his
impossible to climb this Pyrenean mountain
— believe me Cetti, dear friend, my bond –
turning to the man, the snail says:

Day 1:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx— Man, he says, listen up
take the climb with small steps, will and effort are your companions
don’t lament your troubles, they only start so they might end
the path’s slowness is the patience of an angel in the morning of the walk

Day 2:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx—Man, he says, listen up once more
take the climb with little steps, every miniscule act is its own nobility
don’t groan, no creature will pity your labour
be satisfied with your triumph for the day, because tomorrow will never arrive.

Day 3:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx—Man, he says, do you hear me?
if you consider your acts before committing them,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxfirst you will cross adversity, then will come joy
if you give yourself to the designs of earth and sky
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxwhat else could you have to fear?
if lightning, thunder, and storm do not distance you from your light
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxyour way will cross through the night

Epilogue:

xxxxxxxthe mountain’s peak has the distinction of being taller than time
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx—believe me Cetti, dear friend, my bond –
xxxxxxxinherited wisdom manifests upon the hour of completion
xxxxxxxhere, the smallest instructs the greatest: the benefit of climbing mountains
xxxxxxxhere, the greatest sides with the smallest: the benefit of the being’s wholeness
xxxxxxxMan is great, and great is the Snail in its slowness

CAUTION BEFORE THE FIRE’S WATER

Slowly, through the layers of the world, the path clears itself.
xxxxxxx—don’t rush the instant because of the fire’s water!
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxbelieve me Cetti, dear friend, my bond.

*
the baobab sprouts and no creature hears.
xxxxxxx— the secret’s language is the silence of the cosmos!
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxbelieve me Cetti, dear friend, my bond.

*

bambara is spoken in Mali, lingala in Congo, fon in Benin.
xxxxxxx— Man, do you hail from muteness?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxor is it pandemonium?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwhose dream are you?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxallow me to ask you
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxby what sign
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxin which dialect
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxby what sketch of a gesture
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxdoes one point to memory’s road?

*
what fate has given you – believe me Cetti, dear friend, my bond—
no vitality in the universe can strip from you.
your path is still yours before Etna,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSoufrière,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxNyiragongo,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxyour fleeting print ratifies

Catania,
Guadaloupe,
Goma
the volcano which incinerates our tracks through the horror
also reveals the diamond-studded desire of our humanity.

(Unpublished in French. Published with permission of the author.)

Gabriel Mwènè Okoundji was born in the Republic of the Congo and lives in Bordeaux, France. His work has received numerous awards, including the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire in 2010. Some of his works have been translated into English, Spanish, Finnish, Occitan and Italian, and have been the subject of several critical studies. In August 2018, the French Ministry of Culture awarded him the rank of Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres, one of the main distinctions of the French Republic.

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Tchicaya U Tam’si: One poem translated by Yann Lovelock

tchicaya

SUMMARY OF A PASSION

In the paper: the morning edition:
Incident in Leopoldville –
Three well-wishing cards on
my table expressing sorrow…

I lend a hand of cards to passers by
more fertile in dialogues than the dumb fate
of my perishable heart
that no longer resists the way to Damascus pressed
to the naked belly of a shadowy hill…
To strip at my passion’s summary…

O my improbable genealogy!
Descended from what tree? What flowers, shed
from this tree before the knell? Who sounded the knell?
A knell like orphan weeping in the night!

A tree at the hill’s summit
lifts its pyrotechnic branch of blood;
the fisted branch carries a green leaf
image of a flame lit against soft yellow,
hallooing of jinns!

* * *

He is of the trees I do not suspect
but from where comes to me this madness so arborescent
I take the wood-lice
for guide in my perdition?
Descended from what tree?
I give up for lost this impossible tree.
Is night truly my loss?…

But all the same I went plundering the virgin forest,
hands groping at blinkers,
when a cock sneezed at the verge of a village
my furled voice bowed its head,
a sun rose into the sky,
on earth – mystical – a dog absolved a woman
made rustle her frantic hands at her bosom colour
of two cold moons.

Night taken under the wing of sleep,
it totters on the plain and a dog barks
as the wanderer wanders telling all comers
of good luck to come among the hibernating…if they sleep,
my brothers in black obedience
who knows of what death I’m to die adorable?

* * *

In the paper: the evening edition –
Dead and wounded –
Curfew!

To see my better world
among the pus of things well done,
I graft to my retinas two orange-flowers;
grant they be flames
grant they be white enough to chill
the dead of my slow conscience…

Stinking of this sloth, I win by a trick
May a better trickster than I
succeed me in this paradise where men
at knife-point
spend in their sleep
the better part of their gangrene.
And he too,
will he mend the fire they smother plundering
the heart
whose mystery hardly elucidated
strips me scourges crucifies me
at my passion’s summary?

* * *

(Previously published in The Parley Tree, French-speaking Poetry from Africa and the Arab World (bilingual English/French edition) Arc Publications, 2012.)

Tchicaya U Tam’si (1931-1988) was born in Mpili (the Republic of the Congo), but moved to France in 1946. He died in Oise, France in 1988. Like David Diop, U Tam’si’s poetry is colloquial and spoken. Though informal, his work is sophisticated, mocking, and rife with dark humour. He juxtaposes vivid historic images and symbolic, even surrealist, renderings of reality, producing a powerful commentary on not only African life, but the human condition. His work focuses on creating a dynamic identity that would help him free himself, his country and Africa from the vestiges of colonialism and from stifling African traditions. A journalist, activist, and strong supporter of Lumumba, U Tam’si was a vital member of the Congolese independence movement.

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Translators

Conor Bracken is a poet and translator. He is the author of Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour (Bull City Press, 2017) and The Enemy of My Enemy is Me (Diode Editions, 2021), and the translator of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Scorpionic Sun (CSU Poetry Center, 2019) and Jean D’Amérique’s forthcoming No Way in the Skin Without This Bloody Embrace (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2022). He lives in Ohio.

Nancy Naomi Carlson, translator and poet, has authored twelve titles (eight translated). An Infusion of Violets (Seagull, 2019) was named “New & Noteworthy” by The New York Times. A recipient of two translation grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, she was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award and the CLMP Firecracker Poetry Award. Decorated with the rank of Chevalier of the French Order of Academic Palms (Ordre des Palmes académiques) she is the Translations Editor for On the Seawall.

Catherine Maigret Kellogg was born and raised in France and discovered a passion for literary translation when working with Nancy Naomi Carlson on The Dancing Other (Seagull Books, 2018), a co-translation of Suzanne Dracius’ novel L’Autre qui danse. Leaving aside her Marketing career, she obtained a Master’s degree in Translation from Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle in Paris, and now works for a translation company. Excerpts from The Dancing Other have been published in such journals as The New England Review and The Massachusetts Review.

 Yann Lovelock BEM is an English writer and translator. Associated in particular with Peter Mortimer’s Iron, Nick Toczek’s The Little Word Machine, and Ian Robinson’s Oasis. As a translator, his main specialisation was the poetry of the Low Countries. His allied interest was modernist poetry in Belgian Romance dialects, of which he edited and translated two anthologies, The Colour of the Weather and In the Pupil’s Mirror. Later translations include selections from Marianne Larsen (Denmark), Gilles Cyr (Quebec) and Serge Pey (France).

Gerald Moore (born 1924) is an independent scholar living in Worthing, England. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He has taught at many universities, including Sussex, Hong Kong, Makerere, Ife, Port Harcourt, Jos and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His last teaching post was at Trieste. He is primarily a scholar of contemporary African anglophone and francophone poetry. With Ulli Beier, he edited the influential Modern Poetry from Africa (1963), a comprehensive anthology, republished in 1984 as The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry.

Jake Syersak holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of Georgia. He is author of the poetry collections Mantic Compost (Trembling Pillow Press, 2022) and Yield Architecture (Burnside Review Books, 2018). He is the co-translator, with Pierre Joris, of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s hybrid novel Agadir (Diálogos Press, 2020). Forthcoming translations include Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Resurrection of Wildflowers (Oomph! Press, 2022); I, Caustic (Litmus Press, 2022); and Proximal Morocco— (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2023).

Patrick Williamson is an English poet and translator who lives near Paris, France. Latest poetry collections Traversi (English-Italian, Samuele Editore (SE), 2015). Beneficato (SE, 2015), and Tiens ta langue/Hold your tongue (Harmattan, 2014), Editor and translator of The Parley Tree, An Anthology of Poets from French-speaking Africa and the Arab World (Arc Publications, 2012), and translator notably of Tahar Bekri, Gilles Cyr, Guido Cupani and Erri de Luca. Longstanding collaborator, as author and translator, with artist’s books publisher Editions Transignum. Founding member of transnational literary agency Linguafranca.

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