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This review is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

Cover of In Praise of Defeat: Poems Selected by the Author, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (No Cover Image)
Leslie BellTalisman to Jacaranda Abdellatif Laâbi, Beyond the Barbed Wire: Selected Poems translated by André Naffis-Sahely (Carcanet, 2016) £9.99;
Abdellatif Laâbi, In Praise of Defeat: Poems Selected by the Author, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Archipelago Books, 2016) £16.99

The living Moroccan writer Abdellatif Laâbi is principally a poet and writes in French. In 1966 he started, with others, an important journal – Souffles (Breaths) – which became a hearth of all talents in Morocco and further afield. Souffles was closed down in 1972 and Laâbi imprisoned for crimes of opinion. He continued to write through torture and eight years’ incarceration. After his release he was soon exiled to France, where he remains. His later work is even more interesting than the poetry of revolution which made him a target of power: it is self-questioning and world-questioning. Laâbi is by some credited along with other writers of the Maghreb with re-invigorating French poetry and outdoing the poets of metropolitan France.

Beyond the Barbed Wire is a handy, handsome way to approach Laâbi’s poetry, with André Naffis-Sahely’s translations of poems selected from just four of Laâbi’s many books. About half the poems here are from his first two: The Reign of Barbarism and The Poem Beneath the Gag. The rest are from The World’s Embrace, published in 1993 after some years of exile in France, and from Write Life (2005). ‘The Day Hassan II Died’ (prose, 2013), and an interview by Christopher Schaefer complete the book.

‘The Eye of the Talisman’, Laâbi’s declaration of his poetic project, is an angry rhapsody of self-discovery and passionate identification with the people. In ‘Chronicles from the Citadel of Exile’, written in prison, he exhorts himself to ‘Write, write, never stop’ and divides ...


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