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This review is taken from PN Review 208, Volume 39 Number 2, November - December 2012.

A Partial Shade? The Parley Tree: Poets from French-Speaking Africa and the Arab World, edited by Patrick Williamson (Arc Publications) £ 12.99

In Mohammed Dib's L'Incendie (1954), a group of fellahs (subsistence farmers) assemble for a meeting under le vieux mûrier (the old mulberry tree) in the small mountain village of Bni Boublen in Algeria. Move away from the Mediterranean rim into continental Africa and the tree under which villagers meet is more often a baobab. Patrick Williamson, editor of the bilingual anthology of poetry The Parley Tree, describes the role of this tree as that of 'a nerve centre' where conflicts and differences between different communities can be discussed and resolved. Including eighteen poets from twelve countries, The Parley Tree features poems from the early sixties to the present day, with a preface by Tunisian-born Tahar Bekri. All but two authors have been translated by Williamson.

The poems in this anthology are intended to provide a representative selection of voices from the vast continent of Africa and from the Arab world, some published for the first time in English translation and many previously unpublished in French. Williamson's selection reflects the recurrent and pressing questions of engaged poetry, pushing beyond their confines through the dendritic medium of the parley tree: slavery, the vicissitudes of a collective memory denied or defiled, a yearning for redress of colonial wrongs, calls for change or revolution, for solidarity and truth, and for History with a capital H, as Alain Mabanckou (Congo Brazzaville) heralds in 'When the Cock Announces the Dawn of Another Day' (1999):

one day History will be written ...


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