To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Abdellatif Laâbi: from Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis

Translation from French by Gordon Hadfield & Nancy Hadfield


In the beginning was the cry
and already discord

Which tore
the marriage of fire

sordid struggles of separation
and staggering blows of solitude

Sky drew back from fire
water drew back from sky
earth drew back from water
idea drew back from clay
and the form surged
cut in two

One half was retained
the other thrown in the abyss

No one thought of good
or evil

Who could have done otherwise?

It was necessary to pile
embers against embers
to awaken this unshakeable
fire in the eyes

The prey softens and submits
offers its hairy neck
to the belly’s
voracious germination

Everything devours everything
each cunningly takes its turn
the gluttonous sounds of swallowing

Vast was the destruction

The tadpole
in its stagnant pool
could not fathom

If only he had an antenna
with a small lens attached to the end
he could have …
But what would that accomplish?

sole witness to destruction

With this indictment the water returns
cloaking the unsavory spectacle

Amplifying the disorder

These purposeless waves

For a lapse in eternity
there was nothing but waves

A wineskin
its contents shaken
as if something begrudged its roots

With somber jaws
the waves cut to the quick
stifling these stammers
mixing and remixing

For which fleeting idea did they seek revenge?

The waves mixed primal decline
excess of matter
meagerness of memory

This upheaval spawns Hybrid
arch menace
cauldron of pure insanity

Hybrid frolicked
color is invented
by a simple rustle of light
free from its form
the gaze rises from the offal
mouths adorned
by either a retractable vulva
or an edible penis
Organs mirthfully
One even hears snatches
of clear music

Being sculpts Being

Limbless life
examines itself

Like a vital flowering
with a sprig of intelligence
and immediate love

There were only dreaming leaps
in the dance of origins

Body of all bodies
the possible denying the impossible
progress from the horizon to the whole
genesis in love with genesis

But a darkening
from flashes of rage
and a flood of meteorites
What endures great trials
will last
Then the waves ebbed
abandoning the earth
that overturned cauldron
with its bloodless population

Why this confusion?

[NOTE. That the origins of poetry go back to a poetry of origins is a point often made, not least in musings by the present editor in books like Technicians of the Sacred, Shaking the Pumpkin, & A Big Jewish Book. If cosmology & cosmogeny, once the domain of poets, are now firmly in the grip of a developed science with a narrative & poetics of its own, there are poets in our time who pursue still vibrant forms of poesis to create new myths of origin, human & cosmic. or barring that, to use parody or collage from older sources as a kind of “transcreation” (H. de Campos) in a mind-enthralling play of origins. Abdellatif Laâbi’s Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis, newly translated & published by Leafe Press in Nottingham, UK, and Claremont, Calfiornia, enters a field inhabited by Blake’s prophetic books, Hugo’s Dieu, Poe's Eureka, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Olson’s Maximus, & Harold de Campos’s Galaxias, among others then as well as now. A heroic figure through years of imprisonment & exile from his native Morocco, Laâbi, as his translators describe his Fragments, carries forward “the plight of the prisoner … one who has been tortured and silenced, who must somehow create hope.” But above all, Fragments of a Forgotten Genesis is “a surrealistic refiguring of Genesis presented in twenty-six fragments … a mystical yet cynical revisioning of both the Old Testament and the Koran.” Or Laâbi himself: “Le cauchemar / Epouse un cercle parfait // Cela se nomme l’éternité // Un bocal hermétique / qu’aucune magie ne peut ouvrir” ("The nightmare / has come full circle // This is what we call eternity // An impenetrable jar / no magic will open"). In 2009 Laâbi was awarded the prestigious Goncourt Prize for Poetry.]

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