(If) You’re Coming to See Abdellatif Laâbi in London

Abdellatif Laâbi will be launching the English translation of a new collection of his latest poems on Feb. 18 and of his novel, The Bottom of the Jar (both trans. André Naffis-Sahely) on Feb. 20:

From the author's website
From the author’s website. 2009.

Laâbi, best known as a poet, was born in 1942 in Fes, Morocco. In 1966, he and a few friends founded the magazine Souffles, or Breaths. According to translator, poet, and critic Pierre Joris, the magazine “immediately became & remained the great North African avant-garde poetry magazine of the period. It took one’s breath away & indicated changes that were being made in Maghrebian poetry & changes that needed to be made in the life of the people — that is, it could not but be a politically revolutionary magazine too.”

The magazine was eventually censored, Laâbi jailed in 1972, although he said later he survived in part by continuing to write poetry, such as that collected in his Rule of Barbarism (1976), trans. Naffis-Sahely, published in English in 2012.

In 1980 , Laâbi was released and in 1985 he moved to Paris, where he still lives. Joris calls him, “without a doubt the major Francophone voice in Moroccan poetry today,” (although Laâbi dislikes the term Francophone) and Paul Bowles said similar, calling him “the Moroccan writer of his generation.” In 2009, Laâbi received the Prix Goncourt de la Poésie and the Académie française’s Grand prix de la Francophonie in 2011.

The Bottom of the Jar (2004, English 2013) is a novel which, according to Naffis-Sahely, Laâbi “considers one of his greatest achievements.”

The Bottom of the Jar is an exploration of Laâbi’s childhood in Fez, through the author’s semi-fictional kindred spirit, Namoussa. The book begins and ends in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but spends most of its time as an exploration of Laâbi’s childhood in his native city.

Another photo from the author's website; with novelist Radwa Ashour and poet Mourid Barghouti.
Another photo from the author’s website; with novelist Radwa Ashour and poet Mourid Barghouti.


I am very proud to have translated some of Laâbi’s most important books over the past eighteen months. I first began with The Rule of Barbarism (Island Position, 2012), a shamanic series of long poems written in the heady, early days of Moroccan independence, and his autobiography of growing up in the beautiful city of Fes during the 1950s, The Bottom of the Jar (Archipelago Books, 2013), and finally, thanks to Sarah Maguire’s Poetry Translation Centre, I was also able to put together a pamphlet of his more recent poems. The pamphlet will be launched at the Free Word Centre on Monday February 18, while The Bottom of the Jar and The Rule of Barbarism will be launched on two days on Wednesday 20th at the Mosaic Rooms.


Free Word Center, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. 

Mosaic Rooms, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.

Poetry by Laâbi:

Two hours in the train

“Far from Baghdad,” “Fingerprints,” “Knowledge Is Unforgiving,” “One Hand Isn’t Enough to Write with,” “The Manuscript,” and “The Word Gulag,” all at the Poetry Translation Centre 

Interview with Kristin Prevallet, edited and transcribed by Omar Berrada.

” I am someone who fought, politically and intellectually, against dictatorship in Morocco. I do not separate the work of the intellectual–the production of ideas and symbolic value–from the work of being a citizen. However, when I write it is not because someone told me to. I do not belong to a party, and am not a part of a union. I obey no ideology. I am free. But to the extent that I am an intellectual, I cannot be silent when there is oppression, injustice, human rights abuses. I have to fight. I have something to say. I participate in politics. I defend the function of the intellectual as citizen. We used to say, “engaged” but this is a word which has been dragged out for too long.” Read more.

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