“In Praise of Defeat” by Abdellatif Laâbi [Why This Book Should Win]
Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!
<b”In Praise of Defeat“:https://archipelagobooks.org/book/in-praise-of-defeat/ by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books)
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 53%
Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 11%
Abdellatif Laâbi’s In Praise of Defeat, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, is an 800+ page proof of poetic genius. I’m not sure I’ve ever read another book of poetry in translation where the electric connection between translator and author produced such gripping results. The book contains a selection of poems, chosen by the author, of his poetic work from the late 1960s to 2014, aka his entire poetic range.
hear the clash of languages
in my mouth
the thirst for new births
hear the swish of sweat
at my underarms
the ripple of my biceps
driven by my inner fauna
springing from caves
my head against every wall
my breath at the gallop
in its eruptions
If you’ve heard Laâbi’s name before, it might be because he co-founded the journal Souffles in 1966, during Morocco’s “years of lead,” as a way for artists and intellectuals to wage a written war for democratic ideals under a monarchy persecuting independent and progressive thinking. King Hassan II began implementing torture and imprisonment, and poets were not immune. Abdellatif Laâbi was himself tortured and then imprisoned for more than eight years for his political beliefs and writings. Many of the poems in In Praise of Defeat were in fact written while he was serving his sentence in Kenitra prison.
Write, write, never stop. Tonight and all the nights to come. Another night when I can do nothing but write, confront this silence that provokes me with its idiom of exile. I brace myself to the full to explore the voice of the prison night.
These poems give us an idea of what it means to be a Moroccan poet. For Laâbi and his compatriots, politics and poetry were one and the same, every poet a combatant, spurred on by the desperate necessity of continued resistance on the page.
The sun is dying
with human murmurs on its lips
Chaos will come and clear the stage
of this old tragedy
told a thousand times
by an idiot
in an empty theater
There will be another eternity
of roiled absence
and the failure to write