Moroccan Poet Mohammed Bennis Receives France’s Max Jacob ‘Étranger’ Prize

Yesterday, Moroccan poet Mohammed Bennis was awarded one of two Max Jacob prizes at a ceremony in Paris:

Photo credit: Olivia Snaije
Photo credit: Olivia Snaije

Bennis receieved the prize, which is now in its 64th year, for his book Lieux Païens (or A Pagan Place, المكان الوثني), which was translated into the French by Bernard Noël in collaboration with the author.

The award, which goes to one work written in French and — since 2004 — to another in translation, also went to Éric Sarner’s Cœur Chronique.

At the ceremony, Bennis (pictured center), read one of his poems in Arabic, and Noël (left) read it in French.

Yesterday was also the 70th anniversary of poet Max Jacob’s death in the Drancy internment camp.

Previous winners of the Max Jacob ‘Étranger’ include Lebanese poet Wadih Saadeh (2011), American poet-translator Marilyn Hacker (2005), and the Syrian poet Adonis (2008). In the past decade, Bennis has won a number of other awards, including the Maghreb Culture Prize, the Primio Calopezzati, Le Prix Grand Atlas, the Owais Prize, and the Premio Letterario Internazionale Ceppo Pistoia.

Bennis is also one of the 11 Moroccan writers who Abdellatif Laâbi recently said should be translated into English.

One of the poems from A Pagan Place has been translated into English by Anton Shammas and published by Banipal. The poem, “Rose of Dust,” opens:

Shattered places
and the breeze
of dawn wakes up on me


My shoulder still in slumber
A cloud bowing
to the flicker of infinity


Is it that trees invent their echo
has the blind
just dipped his hand
in water


The poet closes
his eyes
on a rose

Keep reading on Banipal

An excellent interview with Bennis: 

On Banipal.

More of Bennis’s poetry in translation:

“lantern,” “disappearance,” and “a blue hand,” trans. Nasreldin

Tens more poems in translation on Bennis’s official website

Other work by Bennis can be found in Poems for the Millenniumed. Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour

The official website:

On video:

Many thanks to Olivia Snaije.