In early December, the yearly “Prix Goncourt” for poetry given by the members of the Goncourt Academy to a francophone poet was awarded to the Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi — which is excellent news, as Laâbi is no doubt the major francophone Moroccan poet at work today. Check out his site here, and the site of Souffles, the major Maghrebian literary, cultural & political avant-garde magazine of the late sixties — editing which led to 8 years of jail for Laâbi — here. Abdellatif Laâbi was awarded this literary honor for “his life achievements,” the Academy said in a statement. The prize will be awarded on January 12, 2010, chez Drouant in Paris (a funky upscale restaurant, its site incongruously plays Alpha singing “elvis” if you wanna check out its menu…)
I have often mentioned him on this blog, but if in a hurry, just check out this post from 2006 on the occasion of the publication of the first volume of his Collected Poems, and which includes a poem by AL and a small essay by me. I must confess that I hadn’t heard of this prize until Jerry Rothenberg brought it to my attention earlier today — but that’s not overly surprising, as my reading of the French literary press is rather casual these days, and the French are even more casual when it comes to poetry: the Goncourt website does not even mention this year’s winner of the poetry prize yet, so centered are they on each year’s novel prize.
Be that as it may, it is excellent news indeed. Among my favorite books of 2009, under the translation rubric, I did include the latest book by Laâbi out here in the US: Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis, translated by Nancy Hadfield and Gordon Hadfield. Leafe Press. Here’s the blurb I wrote for that book:
Abdellatif Laâbi, without a doubt the major francophone voice in Morocco today, writes with a quiet, unassuming elegance that holds and hides the violence any act of creation proposes. This is doubly true in his retelling of this story of a Forgotten Creation — is it a fragmentary story or the full story of a fragmentary creation? But then every creation is a breaking apart, a making of fragments — making is breaking — something Laâbi states ab initio: “In the beginning was the cry / and already discord.” And the poem follows the movements of this cry, tracing its starts and stops, circling its essential enigma, descrying all the false mysteries and hopes and fantasies it gives rise to, despite itself. 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 will get us there, I mean here, inside this act of imaginative creation.