Translated by Peter Thompson
ISBN: 978-1-944884-93-2 (pbk.)
(July 25, 2021)
The Belly (Le Ventre) is Tchicaya u Tam’si’s ode to Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, fighter for independence and first Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. Lumumba rose on a wave of anti-colonial and nationalist optimism only to be assassinated after two months in office. Tchicaya captures the disappointment and grief of this moment with compelling imagery and a rhythmic drive that renders the threnody unforgettable, both to us as readers and to history.
Remaining rooted in a constant awareness of the body, Tchicaya’s voice speaks with vigorous conviction of the struggles faced simultaneously on individual, social, and cultural levels. Inheriting from both Surrealism and Negritude, this vital poet from the Republic of the Congo was a major shaper of 20th century post-colonial African poetry. The Belly, originally published in 1964, reflects the intense political and social changes that followed the country’s 1960 independence from 80 years of colonial occupation. Deeply committed to its homeland, Tchicaya’s work resounds with resilience, determination, and ultimate triumph.
—Cole Swensen, author of On Walking On and Art in Time
The poignant poetry of Tchicaya u Tam’si is best understood in the context of his country’s political history. The Congo offered great hopes for a better future at independence in 1960. But the assassination of its charismatic prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, plunged it into chaos. This broken promise stabbed at the poet’s heart. Nearly 60 years after the first publication of The Belly (Le Ventre), which has become a classic of modern African poetry, Peter Thompson’s beautifully crafted translation into English has reignited its passion and relevance.
—Véronique Tadjo, author of In The Company of Men
The exquisite translation of these poems by Peter Thompson from French to English is highly welcome, capturing the vivid, poignant and provocative world of the timeless Tchicaya u Tam’si. It is surprisingly refreshing and breath-taking, both for its evocative eloquence and relevance for today, especially through the language that captures the immediacy and urgency then and now, and which will remain relevant for the future.
—Wangui wa Goro, translator of Matigari