(translated by Souheila Haimiche and Cristina Viti)
Anna Greki (1931-1966) was an Algerian poet, writing in French (this edition has the original poems and their translations on facing pages). She grew up in the Aures Mountains, became a student at the Sorbonne, a communist. She was arrested during the Battle of Algiers for her part in the anti-colonialist struggle – her first published book of poetry was written in a notebook smuggled out of the prison in which she was held, and tortured as a result of this. This book is based on her second collection, Temps forts, which was published posthumously following her death in child birth.
The writing is passionate, visceral and honest. It is not ‘polished’ in a way some purists might want their poetry to be, I feel it is the better for that – much the better.
from July 1962: “The fields of tender flesh are stilled with peace / Our dead give back the earth to fresh ploughshares / And the flame of their blood beats in your veins.“
from Notice: “Time was when I wore my heart / On my lapel like some giant narcissus // I defined myself by its fervour / That had me burn bright in the hollow of winter // Time was when I was standing straight & failure / Doubt or fear didn’t even cross my mind // My gaze was a victory… // … I had future eyes“
from My Girl Cousins: “Seven lamp-candle stands / Perfumed earlobes / Garlic of the blue night / The jasmine quivering / On the throat of a naked wind // … Is a handsome male lovely & flush / To spell out love’s ABC / & each day sow the seed / Of human flesh human flesh // I’ve applied to the daira* / To be sent to Batna / To teach literacy to the fellahs**… (daira* – district authority; fellahs** – agricultural workers)
from (the brilliantly titled and very current), Good Uses for a Bureaucrat: “When you’ve run out of ideas / there’s always words / & the dead who are heroes / you can make them into street names / or trumpets, alibis, oblivion.“
The fantastic (and long) title poem rages against the colonialist and the patriarchy and tells the men she is fighting alongside that when the revolution comes – as she is certain it will – then the future for Algeria will be one of gender equality as well.
The introduction, written by the translators, quotes Jean-Marie Gleize saying ” insurrection does not spread by contamination but by resonance; memories of a future in which love, poetry and revolution can never be separated.”
This book is all passion. The fact of this book in the world is terrific, a thing to be celebrated.