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Beyond the Barbed Wire

Selected Poems

Abdellatif Laabi

Edited by André Naffis-Sahely

Translated by André Naffis-Sahely

Selected Poems
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Categories: 20th Century, 21st Century, African, Arabic, French, Translation
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
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Paperback (168 pages)
(Pub. Jul 2016)
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(Pub. Jun 2016)
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  • Description
  • Excerpt
  • Author
  • Awards
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  • ‘to endure the lacerations
    and to resist
    to translate humiliation and pain
    into their literal opposites
    and inside this lead-sealed arena
    where they condemned me to shuffle
    for ten whole years
    I have started to dig
    entire tunnels
    and underground passages
    even into my veins’
    Finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2020
    Winner of an English PEN Award

    Introduced by Jim Moore, with an interview by Christopher Schaefer

    Beyond the Barbed Wire is a selection of work by Morocco’s greatest living poet. Abdellatif Laâbi’s poetry and literary activism has inspired a generation of writers and thinkers, and it resulted in his decade-long imprisonment. This volume gives a career-spanning overview of Laâbi’s poetry, from the late 1960s to the 2010s. It includes a generous selection of the prison-writings of the 1970s, poems that speak from ‘beyond the borders of what is human’, as the poet writes, a hinterland of physical and emotional torture, in which hunger strikes are ‘the only weapon we’ve left’. Among these is a poem addressed to the poet’s cell, which is ‘right here / inside me / like a second body’, and another written piecemeal to friends on the outside and later reassembled. Beyond the Barbed Wire pays testament to the human need to speak in the face of censorship, that ‘epic of silence’. These poems, Laâbi’s ‘bitter fruits of the murderous twilight’, renew the possibility of a poetry that is genuinely urgent, necessary: a poetry of anger, anguish, love, wit, and hope, touched by a philosopher’s vision and perspicuity. The book includes an interview with the poet in which he discusses his practice, his views on education, his beliefs about a poet’s duty, the influence of his parents, and his optimism. With Laâbi’s renewed prominence in the Moroccan intellectual scene following the Arab Spring, and with a new generation of artists and activists looking to him as a source of inspiration, this book shows why Laâbi is more than Morocco’s leading poet, but also a guiding cultural and political force.
    Abdellatif Laabi
    Abdellatif Laâbi is a poet, novelist, playwright, translator and political activist. He was born in Fez, Morocco in 1942. In the 1960s, Laâbi was the founding editor of Souffles, or Breaths, a widely influential literary review that was banned in 1972, at which point Laâbi was imprisoned for eight ... read more
    André Naffis-Sahely
    André Naffis-Sahely’s debut collection of poetry, The Promised Land, will be published by Penguin in 2017. He has translated works by Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, Alessandro Spina, Rashid Boudjedra, Tahar Ben Jelloun, and Abdellatif Laâbi, among various others. ... read more
    Awards won by Abdellatif Laabi Short-listed, 2020 The Neustadt International Prize for Literature  (Beyond the Barbed Wire)
    'The themes of his activism explode throughout the work and the reader watches the fireworks of emotion, feeling conflicted with moments of utopic joy followed by utter devastation. Beyond the Barbed Wire does more than make Laabi's work accessible to an English readership.'
    Wasafiri Magazine
    'The poetry we encounter in this volume is popular and public, a poetry of eloquence and pathos, sometimes fierce, something exalted.'

    D. M De Silva, Poetry Salzberg 

    'While it is clear that an inner, creative imperative makes him write, the particular circumstances and passions that move him make him regard writing as part of a political struggle. The 'I' in his poems is no formal lyric ego but a presence, something menacing, a power to be reckoned with.' 

    D. M De Silva, Poetry Salzberg  

    'Shame, defiance, mockery, fear and solidarity come through like battle cries of love, and the reader cannot help but take up the song.'
    Wasafiri Magazine

      'When it comes to 'raising a song of possibilities above the dirge of cruelty', Laâbi is still without rival.'
    Stacy Hardy, The Chimurenga Chronic
     'Laâbi's finest poems are virtuosic performances, turning political crises into poetic occasions and combining a flair for self-dramatization with stunning verbal inventiveness.'
    Robyn Creswell, Harpers Magazine
     'These extraordinary, energetic poems, which grab the reader by the throat both linguistically and morally, are about the power of language itself.'
    Sue Hubbard, Poetry London
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