Abdellatif Laâbi, In Praise of Defeat: Selected Poems

Translated from French by Donald Nicholson-Smith
(Archipelago Press, 2017)

Abdellatif Laâbi is without a doubt the major francophone voice in Moroccan poetry today. He writes with a quiet, unassuming elegance that holds & hides the violence any act of creation proposes. Every creation is of course a breaking apart, a making of fragments, something Laâbi states ab initioin his poem“Forgotten Creation”: “In the beginning was the cry / and already discord.” Creating itself, the poem learns that “where nothing is born / nothing changes,” and that eternity is but “an impenetrable jar / no magic will open.” But the poem, Laâbi insists, will get us inside this act of imaginative creation. It is exactly the processual nature of his poetics, demanding a close listening to both inside and outside worlds, and the will and courage to follow changing meanders as the outside historical situation and the personal ecology of the poet’s world evolve, at times clash, but always inform—taking careful account of both the “in” and the “form” the word proposes—his work. Laâbi has been clear that his essential battle has been the one he fights against the hiatus between discourse and praxis, between thought and action, between the work—including that of poesis, of poetry—and the man: “For me ethics is the basis of politics as much as of literature or thinking.” It is this struggle, what he calls his “solitary-solidary struggle,” deeply committed, deeply political, yet situated outside any ideological system, a struggle toward the construction of an ethics able to equal the complexities of our world, that has been his compass. The rest is poetry.

[Adapted from the foreword.]

Contributor

Pierre Joris

Pierre Joris, while raised in Luxembourg, has moved between Europe, the U.S. & North Africa for half a century now, publishing close to fifty books of poetry, essays, translations, and anthologies—most recently The Agony of I.B. (a play commissioned & produced in June 2016 by the Théatre National du Luxembourg; Editions PHI); An American Suite (early poems; inpatient press 2016); Barzakh: Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press 2014); & Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry of Paul Celan (FSG 2014). When not on the road, he lives in Sorrentinostan, a.k.a. Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with his wife, multimedia performance artist and writer Nicole Peyrafitte.

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