Pierre Joris Discusses Poems for the Millennium Volume Four: The University of California Book of North African Literature
Orlando Reade from Africa is a Country spoke to Pierre Joris, co-editor of Poems for the Millennium Volume Four: The University of California Book of North African Literature. Published last year, this 743 page anthology is the fourth in a series started in 1995 by Joris and Jerome Rothenberg. It includes “documents made in sixth century Carthage to experimental prose published months after the 2011 uprisings”, as well as translations and commentary by Joris and his co-editor, Habib Tengour.
In the introduction to the interview Reade explains that the book “is emphatically not a linear or genealogical account of the literature of the region; it offers, instead, an account of the multiple beginnings, traditions and genealogies which emerge and reemerge in the literatures of the many languages of the region, and the region’s diasporas”. He says that the book’s strength is that “it witnesses poetry’s tendency to move across borders, creating speculative relations between diverse literatures”.
Reade questions whether translating and including poems in an anthology “must involve cutting them off from their roots, preserving them in a lifeless state”, but Joris replies that a poem is not a product of nature, but an artifact, and that a new environment enriches it. They discuss why the contents of the anthology exceeds the borders of modern-day North Africa and why they devoted it to a region rather than a language or dialect.
Read the interview:
The Book includes a series of origin myths, and presents a multiple relations between poet and language and land. Could you tell us about your friendship and collaboration with Habib, where and when you conceived the idea of the anthology?
Joris: Habib and I met in 1976 at the University of Constantine where I was teaching in the English Department and he in the Department of Sociology. We became friends when we discovered that we were both poets and had very similar interests. We stayed in touch over the years and would meet from time to time in Paris, where Habib moved in the 80s, when I’d come through that town.
I’d thought up the idea of the anthology even earlier — an ur-sense of the need for such a book came to me in 1966 when I met the Moroccan poet Mohamed Khaïr-Eddine in Paris and he introduced me to Maghrebi literature, insisting that it was in the Maghreb that the most interesting and revolutionary literature was happening. That’s when I began to read widely in that literature (as well as in Caribbean francophone literature, as both of these felt richer and wilder and more alive than French “metropolitan” poetry).
- Poems for the Millennium Volume Four: The University of California Book of North African Literature edited by Pierre Joris, Habib Tengour
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