Ron Silliman on Millennium 4

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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Pierre Joris

Pierre Joris is a poet, translator, essayist & anthologist who has published more than 50 books, most recently, Meditations on the Stations of Mansur al-Hallaj (poems) from Chax Press and The University of California Book of North African Literature (volume 4 in the Poems for the Millennium series), coedited with Habib Tengour. Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader edited & translated by Joris, and Pierre Joris: Cartographies of the In-between, essays on Joris’ work edited by Peter Cockelbergh, came out in 2012. Forthcoming are Barzakh — Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press) & Breathturn Into Timestead:The Collected Later Poems of Paul Celan (FSG).

Comment on “Ron Silliman on Millennium 4”

  1. 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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