‘I Think Wanting to Break Taboos Is a Waste of Time’

Don’t get me wrong: I think that crossing red lines and discussing subjects that are considered “out of bounds” has a real place in art and literature, most particularly if this line-crossing is done with an original aesthetic sense.

But the desire to “break taboos” (for the sake of it, and not well) and particularly the desire to hear about “broken taboos” (with that shiver of Orientalist frisson) makes me…sleepy.

Which is why I was delighted by Moroccan poet Silham Bouhlal’s matter-of-fact response to the Qantara question:

Your poems are often very sensual. You describe your wishes and desires, sometimes very openly and without shame. Is it important to you to break taboos?

Bouhlal: No. I think wanting to break taboos is a waste of time. What is important to me is to interrogate the body, to explore one’s own possibilities, and to give poetic expression to this conscious relationship with the body.

Bouhlal describes herself as a poet who writes in French (not Maghrebi or Francophone) and has three collections of poetry (in French): Poèmes bleus (2005), Songe d’une nuit berbère ou La tombe d’épines (2007) and her latest Corps Lumière (2008) with a fourth underway. She also translates.

If you’re interested in a poet who’s not out specifically to break taboos, you can read a bit of Bouhlal’s poetry in its original French (on Jehat), or in English, translated by James Kirkup (on Mediterranean.nu).

One of Bouhlal’s poems (I corrected what seemed to be typos on Mediterranean.nu):

Woman inhabiting this body
Show yourself to my beloved
Let your reflection shine in his eyes
Let his breath become your perfume
Let his caressings describe your forms
He alone possesses your secret
I am the earth he treads
The breeze he breathes
My love is a garden
Extending infinitely
Divine carpet woven
To the rhythm of his footfalls
My heart performs its dance
His breathing caresses my hair
Heavy with henna and honey