The Parley Tree
An Anthology of Poets from French-speaking Africa
and the Arab World
Translated by Patrick Williamson with Yann Lovelock
Edited and introduced by Patrick Williamson
with a Preface by Tahar Bekri
Arc Publications, 2012
“Poetry is one of the major forms of literary expression in both Africa and the Arab World and this anthology endeavours to provide the reader with a glimpse of the most representative voices of the poetic movements, and generations, in the French-speaking countries of these two regions, at the same time as doing away with the divisions and distinctions between the countries of Africa. The poets anthologized here – from North Africa, Sub Saharan Africa and the Arab World – have long wished to escape from artificial pigeon-holing and rather to be associated with common threads. The past half-century has confirmed their work as poetry of great literary quality, full of a unique vitality and presence, and this anthology enables an English-speaking readership to discover and savour these distinctive voices.”
About the translators
Patrick Williamson was born in Madrid in 1960 and lives near Paris, France. His most recent poetry collections are Bacon, Bits & Buriton (Corrupt Press, 2011), and Trois Rivières/Three Rivers (Editions Harmattan, 2010). He has translated the selected poems of Tunisian poet Tahar Bekri (Inconnues Saisons/Unknown Seasons, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1999) and the Quebecois poet Gilles Cyr (The Graph of Roads, Guernica Editions, 2008). He is the editor of Quarante et un poètes de Grande-Bretagne (Ecrits des Forges/Le Temps de Cerises, 2003).
Yann Lovelock lives and works in Birmingham, England. In addition to numerous collections of his own poetry and scholarly work, he has published translations from French, Dutch, Wallon, Flemish, Urdu, Spanish and Danish and held guest editorships, notably for Modern Poetry in Translation, Dutch & Flemish issue, 1997. As a Buddhist, he has been widely involved in educational work and inter-faith dialogue.
Contributors are Mohammed Dib (Algeria), Habib Tengour (Algeria), Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Nimrod (Chad), Alain Mabanckou (Congo Brazzaville), Tchicaya U Tam’si (Congo Brazzaville), Kama Sywor Kamanda (Democratic Republic of Congo), Abdourahman A. Waberi (Djibouti), Tanella Boni (Ivory Coast), Venus Khoury-Ghata (Lebanon), Edouard Maunick (Mauritius), Khal Torabully (Mauritius), Abdellatif Laâbi (Morocco), Babacar Sall (Senegal), Amadou Lamine Sall (Senegal), Tahar Bekri (Tunisia), Shams Nadir (Tunisia), Amina Saïd (Tunisia).
Four times azure and five
Habib Tengour (Algeria)
Sand stone or mineral ultramarine blue
memory attaches to its rays
frail trace of a camp
to cross our lives set out in a mirror
just as hachures fade to grey
and the sky is colour sterile
The trip, you cannot tell us about it
this ash taste when words merge
nor the burst of joy when landing
I stared and stared at the line
stubbornly searching for a bearing
Pale at the time of reckoning your book on the stall
no longer a question of flight
The spectre is mute
it will not reveal its secret before cock-crow
the anguish that roams at night is not fatal
even though fear haunts the stars
In the bedroom, dawn sprinkles its gold sequins
and azure drinks from your lips
Soweto, suns shot down (extracts)
Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon)
The high winds
That punctuate the march
My homeland in revolt
My people rising up
Against raging night
My people rising up
Ferment of our suffering
The raging storm
And our martyrs
That are not dead
That are in my song
In the air the sea
Like a volcano in fury
I will carry you over my land
Barely dry from tears
I will carry you among the flowers
Pollen the pure volcano
I will carry you a sun
All through the final march
I will carry you lovingly
Even in the stirring
Of my faraway country
Even in the unbridled silence
Of our solitary corner of the world
I will carry you
Time hangs heavy
The march drags on
Waiting for the warm
Embrace of the great day
Waiting for love
And harvests to come
Time hangs heavy
The march drags on
In the night
Cold and alone
We will walk on thorns
To prison space
Our final insubordination
In the night
Till freedom come
And when the march ends
We will strike up a friendship
With the intimacy of day
With fire, water, air
And a brighter morning
A warm embrace
That probes the virgin wind
Of our parallel geographies
We will strike up friendship
Our arms that untiringly
So we will emerge from exile
A swarm of bees
A tidal wave
That ebbs to the horizon
Flayed by wind
Like so many stars hoisted
To the very centre of the sky
We will emerge from exile
Like a raging volcano
I will take you to walk
On the shore
Along the coast
When the breeze skims
The never-ending sea
I will offer dawn
The magnitude of love
And your snugly
And we will go on
Across the smooth sand
Of my land
Alone in love
Just as the incoming tide
Lulls the worn reefs
The cry of the bird
for Daniel Bourdanné
I wanted to be overcome with silence
I abandoned the woman I love
I closed myself to the bird of hope
That invited me to climb the branches
Of the tree, my double
I created havoc in the space of my garden
I opened up my lands
I found the air that circulates between the panes
Pleasant. I was happy
To be my life’s witch doctor
When the evening rolled out its ghosts
The bird in me awoke again
Its cry spread anguish
In the heart of my kingdom
In the silence of hearts
Kama Sywor Kamanda (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Now you are queen of my kingdom of dreams!
Woman, I am lost in your darkest night
Without a guiding star!
Carried away by your everchanging soul
As on an infinite sea,
I am drowning in the light of your desires:
Your love of its sensual pleasures transfigured me,
And I distanced my life from the shores of solitude.
It is softness in my heart
Nourished by the blood of lovers!
The fears on the flanks of wind are ripening,
I pray for heaven
To protect your life from all suffering,
And the force of love to safeguard your freedom
Is a requirement of election.
I will cross gulfs of bitterness
To accede to the sun of your pleasure,
And I will attain the highest summits of your slopes
So that the river of all tenderness will flow down
Broadening as it courses its way.
Abdourahman A. Waberi (Djibouti)
I am the rustling of the world
the swaying between here and elsewhere
the dumb foliage of the cactus
the coarse wood that covers the gecko
the bed for the world-book
whose pages are as many waves of the quest
endlessly begun again
Tales of yesterday
Abdourahman A. Waberi (Djibouti)
The female lips of the tiger orchid have
nothing to hide. Darkest night.
Everything sleeps, even silence.
The bones of the past here, visible in evening streets.
The laurel trees weep for their Daphne
Apollo is off chasing skirt in Abyssinia.
Go on, anchor further out. Leave the sea of Eritrea,
the heavens will be better then.
This is the sacked bard telling you:
my land is poor, there is nothing for sale.
Black gold, precious wood, pearls of azure?
Nothing but the wind, migratory winds –
the dreams of flocks and mirages of water.
Our confidence has evaporated
like the morning dew
sucked up by the eye of the sun.
It is black, often. Pink sometimes. We are a long way
from having said yes to the abduction of the coffin.
Dialogue of water and salt (extracts)
Khal Torabully (Mauritius)
Dialogue is no more a place than space,
nor cry where being is born and trespasses.
It is a sudden crossing, a succession of epitaphs
where the soul leaves traces in the calligrapher’s silence.
Yet, between sky and water, the word alone
disquiets the being: between coral and rock,
the instant of speech – this reed finally full of notes
If salt and water wish to undo the sea
or silence, that’s not my business.
But if this here is the Frontier,
between desire and speech, I note it in flesh and bone.
The sea is further out than salt
salt closer than sea.
Speak! Speak! Tell me the dialogue of water!
Speak! Speak! Tell me the arabesques of salt!
The opposite meaning of words,
Speak memory, before I take you out!
Tahar Bekri (Tunisia)
If music were to die
If love is the work of Satan
If your body is your prison
If the whip is what you know how to wield
If your heart is your beard
If your truth is a veil
If your refrain is a bullet
If your song is a funeral prayer
If your falcon is a crow
If your look is brother to dust
How can you love the sun in your lair?
If your sky detests kites
If your soil is a minefield
If your wind is thickened by powder
And not fecund pollen
If your mulberry tree is a gallows
If your door is a barrage
If your bed is a trench
If your house is a coffin
If your river flows with blood
If your snow is a cemetery
How can you love the water in the river?
If your mountains submit
Humiliated and humbled
Their backs unjust citadels
Their guts disembowelled to harden stone
If your valley is not to fuel your dream
Like a rose in the zephyr
If your clay is kneaded by grief
Not to raise a school
Like an apricot tree in flower
If your reed is not a qalam
How can you live in the light?
If your labour is seed for scarecrows
Craven cache for poppies
If your horse is enslaved by its blinkers
Scorns the flight of flutes in the air
If your valley vomits its sapphires
To the warlords
If the braids of women are ropes
If your stadium is a slaughterhouse
If your path is invisible
If your night is a tomb for the stars
How can you promise the moon?
If Gengis Khan is your master
If your child is the offspring of Timur
If your face is faceless
If your sabre is your executioner
If your epic is ruins and vultures
If all the rain cannot wash your forefinger
If your desire is dead wood
If your fire is ash
If your flame is smoke
If your passion is grenades and cannon
How can you seduce the dove at the window?
If your village is a casern
Not a nest for swallows
If your house is a cave
If your source is a mirage
If your dress is your shroud
If death is your mausoleum
If your Koran is a turban
If your prayer is war
If your paradise is hell
If your soul is your sombre gaoler
How can you love the spring?
from The Parley Tree (Arc Publications, 2012).
Order The Parley Tree.