Emergency!, by Mohamed Hmoudane, our latest offering of poetry from North Africa, is a Small Press Distribution recommended book this month. Pick up the book, with full-color gravures by Bouchaïb Maoual, at SPD, or right here on the site
Poetry International, in collaboration with 3:AM Magazine, is showcasing a group of amazing young European poets, including our own Zvonko Karanović, author of Sleepwalkers on a Picnic. Steven Fowler, the Editor of the Maintenant Interview Series, interviewed Zvonko recently, saying:
Perhaps with some validation it is often suggested we currently inhabit an onanistic poetic culture. Mere decades ago there are innumerate examples of poets and their work changing the political landscape of their time, their words serving as a vital and indelible representation of protest, change and rebellion. It is unlikely that this phenomenon has become obsolete. Rather the poets creating this unforgettable work, which aims at the very heart of what they must suffer and observe, that they will not let pass unanswered, are off the radar of the zeitgeist. Yet in Serbia, in counter-cultural circles, Zvonko Karanović is a near legend. Working in the rebellious, revelatory manner of the Beats and the German new-wave, postwar poets, Karanović has been a relentless critic of Serbia and its actions over the last two decades. A Beat poet, in the most stringent and expansive manner, and an accomplished novelist, his work is resonant, dashing and singular. In an extraordinary interview, Karanovic speaks of his influences, the context of the Balkan wars and his experience of how Serbia, and Serbian poetry has altered in the countries tempestuous recent history. We are honoured to introduce Zvonko Karanović as the 27th edition of the Maintenant series.
Check out the entire interview here.
On 26 May, 1993, Algerian novelist and activist Tahar Djaout was shot in the head on his way to work in Algiers. He died in a coma a week later. One of his attackers, a member of the Armed Islamic Group, confessed that he was murdered because he "wielded a fearsome pen…", a fact that highlights one of Djaout's more famous quotes: "If you speak, you die, and if you remain silent, you die. So, speak and die."
Djaout's untimely death at the age of 39 robbed Algeria of one of its great 20th century voices, but not before he produced a corpus of lasting and important novels and books of poetry. We are excited to be releasing, this December, The Bone Seekers (Les chercheurs d’os) in a new translation by esteemed translator Marjolijn de Jager, whose credits include, among many others, Assia Djebar's seminal Children of the New World.
The Bone Seekers is set in an Algeria ravaged by the war for independence, narrated by an adolescent boy who sets out, with his uncle and a donkey, from his primitive Kabylian village to find the bones of his brother who was killed in the war. The boy's naive encounters with "the new world" of post-independence Algeria, along with his ruminations on his and his brother's past, culminate in a homecoming that is a realization of the world to come.
We are also releasing—or rather re-releasing, since I published this book, formerly, at UNO Press—another North African title of great significance, Nabile Farès' A Passenger from the West, translated by Peter Thompson. In 1970, Farès was asked to interview James Baldwin in Paris for Jeune Afrique magazine. What begins in this book as an interview with Baldwin confronting the history of Black America leads Farès into a journey through his own past and a broad consideration of the matter of identity in the postcolonial world. The original interview with Baldwin (the only extant English translation) is included.
These two volumes bear comparison at a number of levels. They are both "road novels" that hinge, in very different ways, on the revelations that travel can inspire. And both grapple with the problem of identity (and its now fundamental corollaries of language and nation) in a way that brings to light the real costs of empire building, from the American slave trade to the sacking of Algiers.
For this reason we would like to offer these two books in a special package deal: Order either one from our website in the month of August, and you will receive the other at no additional cost. Click here to order.
"In death, he is like an apparition. He shows up inconspicuously, tactfully, in a way he never did in life. No matter how deep you look into his past, you won’t find much because most of what he did was impromptu, without a script. He lived in the present, unencumbered, and he left behind a trail of anger and destruction." (From: "Mario Santiago: Infrarrealist and Terrorist", by Ilan Stavans)
Ilan Stavans, who wrote the introduction to Poetry Comes Out of my Mouth, has published an essay on Papasquiaro in Los Angeles Review of Books. Well worth reading. When you get to the end, use the fourth to the last word in the essay as a coupon code and receive 50% off the book price here, until the end of May.
Mario Santiago Papasquiaro (pen name of José Alfredo Zendejas Pineda, December 25, 1953 – 1998) was the co-founder, with Roberto Bolaño, of the Infrarrealist Movement and the basis for the character of Ulises Lima in Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives. Like Santiago, the Lima character is a wild adventurer and virulent opponent of the canonical Mexican tradition, symbolized especially by Octavio Paz. Santiago made enemies in the Mexican poetry community due to his vocal criticism of what he deemed inferior forms of poetry, the literary elite, and poets themselves. Gaining only slight recognition during his lifetime, he is recognized and lauded by the testimonies of his friends in the Infrarealist movement, especially Bolaño. Though always returning to Mexico City, Santiago traveled widely in Europe and the Americas as was once expelled from Austria. Years later Bolaño said of this incident:
[Santiago] could care less about Austria and Mexico and the United States and the happily defunct Soviet Union and Chile and China, among other reasons because he didn’t believe in countries and the only borders he respected were the borders of dreams, the misty borders of love and indifference, the borders of courage and fear, the golden borders of ethics.
Mario Santiago's style is as indifferent to borders as was his life. The long free verse lines, reminiscent of the American Beats, are irreverent but also erudite, and his work is peppered with allusions and homages to Rimbaud, Artaud, Pound, Beckett, Bataille, Mallarmé, Burroughs, Brautigan, Shakespeare and others. He has not been widely translated, partially because he was inattentive to publication while he was alive, leaving behind only one complete collection but reams of poems on bar napkins and the backs of flyers. Diálogos is proud to bring out Poetry Comes out of My Mouth, the first major collection of his work to be released in English, illustrated by the paintings of Maceo Montoya and with a superb introduction by Ilan Stavans. You can preorder a copy, today only, for half price.
Here's a poem from the collection, read in English and Spanish by translator Arturo Mantecón.
I shit on God
& on all of his dead
I shit on the communion host
& the virgin’s little cunt
I shit on the dead
of the God of God
on the master morality of Friedrich Nietzsche
on the trembling body on my soul
& on the exposed nettles of the atheist
on the premature death of the righteous
on the fleeting nature of coitus & its flash
On the animal verb
On rhizome-like imagination
On the texts of fully weaned wisdom
On the ass crack of the planets
Concentrating on the wildfire of my pores
on this alcohol undergrowth that thrashes me
on the infinite eye of my footprints
on the savage fury of shameful chaos
on impossible death & its offerings
On the mud of the asp that suns itself
on the rocks of the beloved
on the levitation of my skull & bones
on the lame heart of the unspeakable
On the aqueous aleph of my stigmata
on the vitreous rash of my assassin
on the hand of pleasure
on the drug wedged in his front teeth
On the philanthropic ogre & his wife
on the wretched grave of chance
on the germ of lyrical poetry / which is a turd
On the airborne horseshit
on the sleep sand in the eyes of moles
on the all-splendored cranium of Charleville
On the rats still fleeing from the Drunken Sea
on the soft
on the flabby
& on the defenseless
On the toads’ belch of ether
on boiling blood
on the shadows
on the pink phlegm of the daybreak
on the insensate glass I have chosen for a road
in the canyons of swollen Venus
On the banquet platter
in the little chamber pots of the ceasefire
on the rotten toadstool & its trident
On the genealogical tumor of the US Army
on the extensive lineage of shit
Abyss & resplendency / chance & wind
Open vein from coccyx to clavicle
Lateness of pregnancy
/ Flame of muffled harps
On groins without the armpits of God-inventorofthedead
on the suave & multiple murmur made by 2 teardrops
: on the sea : on its deserts :
& on myself
Me cago en Dios
& en todos sus muertos
Me cago en la hostia
& en el coñito de la virgen
Me cago en los muertos
del Dios de Dios
en la soberbia de Federico Nietzsche
en el cuerpo tembloroso de mi alma
& en las ortigas al aire del ateo
en la muerte prematura de los justos
en la fugacidad del coito & sus centellas
En el verbo animal
En la imaginación-rizoma
En los textos del saber tan destetado
En la raja de los mundos
Yo me cago
Concentrado en el incendio de mis poros
en este alcohol-maleza que me cimbra
en el ojo infinito de mis huellas
en el furor salvaje del desmadre
en la imposible muerte & sus ofrendas
En el barro del áspid que calienta
en las rocas de la amada
en la levitación de mi calaca
en el cojo corazón de lo innombrable
En el aleph acuoso de mis llagas
en la vítrea desazón de mi asesino
en la mano del placer
en la droga anidada en sus colmillos
En el ogro filantrópico & su esposa
en la tumba del azar tan manoseada
en el germen de la lírica / que es caca
En la boñiga aérea
en las lagañas topas
en el cráneo todo resplandor de Charleville
En las ratas que aún huyen del Mar Ebrio
en lo blando
en lo fofo
& en lo inerme
En el eructo del éter de los sapos
en las sangres hirvientes
en las sombras
en el rosa gargajo de las albas
en el vidrio insensato que he escogido como calle
en las barrancas de Venus tumefacta
En el platón del festín
en las bacinicas de la tregua
en el hongo podrido & su tridente
En el genealógico tumor de la US Army
en el extenso linaje de la mierda
Abismo & resplandor / azar & viento
Vena abierta de cocxis a clavícula
Regazo de embriaguez
/ Llama de arpas embozadas
En las ingles sin axilas de Dios-inventamuertos
en el suave & múltiple rumor que hacen 2 lágrimas
: en el mar : en sus desiertos :
& en mí mismo
Megan Burns has an uncanny ability to adapt language, concretely, into a correspondent of the broken world it attempts to traverse. In her writing grammar itself becomes the "objective correlative" Eliot imagined as an abstract image corresponding to an emotional state, each trace and fissure in the language mapping a lesion in the individual and social psyche. To "program" is to incant a set of instructions to an automaton, which is then left with no choice but to enact them, unless somewhere in the process something is broken, a gate left closed, or some tiny misprision in the now antique etymologies of Basic set it off on an errant path.
Megan is no stranger to Lavender Ink. This will be her fourth book so far, and she serves, as well, as our co-conspirator at the New Orleans Poetry Festival, where Basic Programming will release this April, with the launch party Thursday, April 20, at Dogfish. You can preorder your copy, today only, for half off even the low preorder price.
Today we are featuring one poem from the book, along with Megan's reading of it.
what I do/ bemoan loss/ my betrayal/ what’s good/ never
traveled a land of dead to get me/ would you/ never waded my city
to pull photos from floodwater stained walls/ would you/ never tried
to pull my spine, notch vertebrae notch through back where I’m split/ spit on me/ would you/ never lowered yourself into mud spewing vomit, your lies that bile thick hanging from your chin/ or clawed your eyes out to not see pain you cause me/would you/ never put muzzle back of my head/ but you did/ never pulled trigger sending metal biting through wishes, dreams, nightmares / never put your mouth on mine & sucked out my breath or put it back in/wouldyou/wouldyou/wouldyou/ never swallowed fistfuls of pages I wrote all you choking down till your rib cage burst filled articles of contrition/ my fucking nouns/ my fucking verbs slurped/ boat me. lover, boat me shore to shore cement blocked/ love me way down to rocky flats of our muddy river where I swirl/ twirl sounds loud bubbling break surface/ my face eaten by shame/ some living/ would you/ never cut me to pieces spread far/ over bridge, down by rocks/ into basin/ interstated/ beach full of fingers & toes/ would you/ would you lick off my fingerprints/ would you/ would you lick off my fingerprints/ would you pull my tongue out to poke that wormy root/ feel it, tip of your tongue/ suckle my eyelids off/ put your fist inside/ me put both fists inside me/ applaud would you would you what’s good/ love me like you mean it/ don’t mean it & leave me here clothed/ meaning it/ leaving me able to walk away/ meaning it/ & I have my wits about me/ I’m still moving/ I’m still sounds & voice & terror/& you mean it/ I mean to be obliterated & you give me love/ love/ what’s good?
I've been reading Francophone writers of Northern Africa lately and thought to recommend a few that might serve as background to those which have appeared and are appearing from Diálogos. Recent Francophone literature from and of Northern Africa—Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia—ranks as some of the most ambitious, incisive and artistically interesting literary work of the past half century, though it is little known in the English-speaking world. Many thanks to Peter Thompson who got me started in this investigation.
One author I would recommend to everyone is Assia Djebar, and of her many books especially Fantasia: An Algerian Calvalcade. In this work that defies easy classification as fiction, nonfiction, or even poetry, Djebar collages together a sequence of narratives that include factual histories, Djebar's own lyrical memoirs, excerpts from diaries of both French and Algerian actors, and fictionalized narratives from various personae, to trace the recent history of Algeria. Beginning with the French blockade of Algiers in 1830, Fantasia traces the country's conquest and suppression by the French, which precipitated an almost constant state of war that culminated in the Algerian Revolution in 1954. Both a stylistic, theoretical and political tour-de-force, Fantasia, in the excellent translation by Dorothy S. Blair, is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the historical forces that are shaping North Africa, the Mideast and Europe today.
I also just read Abdelwahab Meddeb's Talismano. Meddeb grew up in Tunis. 10 years old when Tunisia gained independence, he benefited from an education that taught him both French and Arabic classics, and apparently everything in between. Talismano abounds with cultural references from all sides of the Mediterranean; indeed, he treats the coastline of Mare Nostrum as a single country, almost as a single city. With his vast erudition and wide-ranging travels he is equally at home in Tunis or Rome or Marseilles or Athens, with Jewish alchemists, Greek classicists and Koranic scholars, with prostitutes, priests, magicians and scientists. He punctuates his dense, incantatory prose with an array of allusions and hints buried in a syntax as labyrinthine as the medinas of Marrakesh or back streets of Rome. Talismano, in fact, is a novel of back streets, perhaps of all back streets, for as the author or narrator (one is never certain which) is wandering the alleys of one city he can turn a corner and suddenly be in another, as a chance encounter in Tunis or Algiers will remind him of Rome or Paris and the narrative will simply follow. Meddeb is as bawdy as Henry Miller, as ambitious as Joyce, as visionary as Rimbaud and as wily as Proust, though likely he'll first remind you of Celine. Jane Kuntz's translation of this challenging work is, too, a stunning achievement.
Another I want to mention is Tattooed Memory, by Abdelkébir Khatibi, recently translated by Peter Thompson and released from Editions L'Harmattan. Like the other two books I've mentioned here, Tattooed Memory is hard to classify. Is it a novel, a memoir, a theoretical work or even a long poem? Amazon refers to it as a novel, but if we take that term as is commonly taken in the book business in the US, as a form in which the matters of first importance are "plot" and "character," in which language is considered best when it is "invisible" and not even worthy of critical attention, I would have to say that Tattooed Memory could be almost anything but that. As Thompson says in the Translator's Introduction:
This is a translation that “reads like a translation,” and it does so because it is meant to. That is because the original reads like a translation. Or, to be exact about it, the original reads in Khatibi’s unique “bilangue.” This is a word, different from the adjective “bilingue” (bilingual) which Khatibi invented to explain what language was doing to him.
For Khatibi, born in Morocco but educated at the Sorbonne, whose dissertation was entitled Le Roman maghrébin (The Maghrebin Novel), language can never be invisible. To speak French is always to speak the language of force, the language that the colonizers forced on his parents and on him. Thus his memoir will be a memoir of language, of how his language came to reside in him as translation, from the very beginning, from the first pronoun to the last period of the theoretical discourse. Tattoed Memory is a kind of Derridean memoir, a memoir that does not have recourse to le mot juste Flaubert imagined to be his goal. It is a memoir in which every word is, in fact, unjust.
Still to come, for me, several writers of the generation before Djebar, Meddeb and Khatibi, like Kateb Yacine and Driss Chraïbi, and the lesser known (ie less translated) Albert Memmi and Mohammed Dib.
My hope is that the work of Nabile Farès, Youssouf Amine Elalamy, Abdelkader Djemaï and Mohamed Loakira, herein, makes some contribution to this most vital branch of post-colonial literature. As with Khatibi, Djebar and Meddeb, it is difficult to classify their work as fiction or nonfiction or poetry. While Farès and Loakira utilize the convention of the line, Exile: Women's Turn and ...and the spring is veiled over are not collections of discreet poems but series composing unified narratives. Conversely, Elalamy's use of anaphora and lyrical refrains in Nomad Love makes that work read as much like a poem as a novel, and the same can be said of Farès' novel, Exile and Helplessness, and the two novellas that comprise Djemaï's Father / Son.
Diálogos is proud to be releasing Jaime Luis Huenún’s Fanon City Meu, Spring, 2018, translated by Thomas Rothe. This book takes political poetry in a new direction, where the voices of the colonized and their colonizers form a dissonant choir bearing testimony to the centuries of violence that have shaped Latin America. Inspired by Martinican intellectual Frantz Fanon, the book examines issues of race, colonialism, and revolution through a poetic discourse that only seems to find solace in irony. Huenún, a renowned Chilean-Mapuche poet, draws parallels between the alienation of South American indigenous peoples and the experiences Fanon documented in the Caribbean and Algeria, breaching national and linguistic barriers that often work to isolate the “wretched of the earth.”
Fanon City Meu is Huenún’s second full-length collection of poetry to be translated into English, following Port Trakl in 2008. Both books form part of an ongoing project to engage with the work of prominent international poets and intellectuals, such as George Trakl and Osip Mandelstam. Huenún questions the limits of so-called indigenous literature without abandoning issues relevant to the Mapuche struggle for self-determination, urging readers to reflect on the inseparable bond between language and politics.
The death of Nabile Farès in August, 2016, was a great loss to Francophone North African letters. Farès was a Berber, born in Collo, on the Kabylia peninsula, a part of Algeria that was never fully subdued by either Arab or the later French conquerors, and his first language was Berber. He was a teenager during the Algerian War, when his parents sent him to France to study and to be safe from the conflict. He became a poet, novelist, dramaturge, ethnologist and psychoanalyst of some renown in France, with recognition in Algeria (and the US) coming only recently. His numerous novels and books of poetry all center on issues of exile and colonialism. He worked closely with translator Peter Thompson over the years to see several of his works translated into English. They were working together on Exile: Women's Turn at the time of his death, and we are proud to be able to release this work into English now.
Thompson explains the genesis of this book in the Translator's Introduction:
...this poetry arose from a special moment in African migration and exile. Men, before the 1980s, had always been the ones to leave North Africa in search of work (mainly in France and Spain). They found dubious lodging--often in exploitive dormitories--and sent money home. That changed when women, in a considerable wave, undertook the sea crossing on their own. Exile: Women's Turn is that journey, and that sea change in women's destinies.
You can read a more complete biography of Farès here. Diálogos also has in print Exile and Helplessness (L'Exil et le désarroi), a novel (also available as ebook), and we recommend two earlier translations by Peter Thompson, A Passenger from the West (novel) and Hearing Your Story (poetry) both from UNO Press.
...it is the great merit & beauty of these poems to speak to & of (without the male arrogance of claiming to speak for) the women (of his native Algeria, & of elsewhere & not only in the Arab world) in their double exile, "these women [who] resembled / Clandestine vowels / Of the Unwanted Languages," humbly declaring his work to be "your voyage // my translation."
—Pierre Joris, author of h.j.r., and The University of California Book of North African Literature.
You don't know Latin American poetry unless you know Roberto Echavarren. The Virgin Mountain shows off his wit and innovation, his neo-baroque style blended seamlessly with surrealism, translated beautifully by Donald Wellman in collaboration with the multilingual author. Step into this long poem, and the way you see gender, nature, history—the world—will be transformed forever.
—Jesse Lee Kercheval, Dorset Prize winning author of America That Island Off the Coast of France