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Ron Silliman on Millennium 4

March 12th, 2013 · 1 Comment · Amazigh Poetry, Anthology, Arab Culture, Berber Literature, Book Review, Maghrebi Literature, Poetry, Translation

Calligraphy by Al-Qandusi (1790-1861)

Calligraphy by Al-Qandusi (1790-1861)

Extracted from a larger piece on Silliman’s blog on a number of new & recent anthologies (check out the whole post here):

(…) Another anthology available from UC Press that is a “must own” item is Poems for the Millennium, Volume Four: The University of California Book of North African Literatureco-edited by Pierre Joris &Habib Tengour. It’s not a slam on any of the other volumes to say that this is the best and most important book in this series to date, because it is precisely the fact that this collection opens up new territory – to deliberately employ an imperialist metaphor for a moment – that separates it out from the three earlier collections. Unlike Shaking the Pumpkin, Technicians of the Sacred and Revolution of the Word – the anthologies for which Jerry Rothenberg will go to heaven – the first 3 collections of Millennium gather together work that is generally known and available, if not always under one cover. Number 4 may not be the first gathering of work from just south of the Mediterranean – and in some key instances to its north as well — but it certainly is the first such aimed directly at the general poetry reader. As such, it is as profound an explosion of new writing as any of Rothenberg’s early anthologies. Like those books, and Across the Line / Al otro lado, it is also a great read, a book that contains everyone from Callimachus to Fanon to contemporary experimental work (the volume ends with Omar Berrada’s comparison of Alfred Jarry, Ibn Arabi and bpNichol). It is also 750+ pages, all in English, so functionally four times the size of the Baja book. It could – I am certain – have been much, much larger, but it already is one of those volumes one could sink into and not come up for air for a year or more, without exhausting its riches.
If this book has a limitation, it is that it tries to do too much — the poetry of multiple societies that represent some of the oldest civilizations on the planet, stretching from the western border of Egypt to the southern tip of Mauritania. This follows the outlines of the Arab Maghreb Union and thus omits Egypt, Chad & the Sudan as well as sub-Saharan Africa, although the volume does include some Tuareg proverbs from southernmost Algeria, work from the Maghreb diaspora (primarily to Europe) as well as imperial influences that impacted the region as well. Inevitably, these raise the issues of the histories of borders & the impact that occupation has had on each of these societies – only 25,000 of the 1.2 million Tuareg peoples in the world are to be found in Algeria, for example, with much larger populations centered in Mali & Niger. Even today, the Western Sahara is an occupied territory claimed by Morocco along the coast, and Algerian-backed forces to the east, tho most of the land borders Mauritania.
Joris & Tengour attempt to create order out of historical messiness in the best way possible, by being quite specific in laying out different groupings. The result is a book that has 13 major subdivisions, a lot for an anthology and one that is apt to be ignored by the casual reader who treats such volumes like a giant bazars, hopping about without specific reading route in mind – some of these subdivisionsare further segmented by nation. I can’t think of another volume – in the Millennium series or elsewhere – where there is going to be a greater gap than between the relative opacity that greets the peripatetic casual “dipper-in” and the in-depth mini-collections that are available to anyone who decides that today is the day for Tunisia, or for early prose. Poems for the Millennium 4 is a great anthology, but it is not a book for browsers.(…)

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Poo

    The wordiness of the piece does the book a disservice. It has been some time since the phrase “imperialist metaphor” has crossed my desk. Mr. Silliman does not write for “browsers” either.

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