Angela Buck, Leonard Schwartz and Victor Reinking on Abdellatif Laâbi

Victor Reinking and Abdellatif Laâbi
Abdellatif Laâbi and Victor Reinking

This monthly series will feature highlights from the Cross Cultural Poetics archive. Cross Cultural Poetics is one of the longest-running radio shows in America focused on contemporary poetry and poetics. Based at The Evergreen State College and hosted by Leonard Schwartz, the entire archive, running from 2003 to the present, can be accessed on PennSound.

As I select installments, I’m not only listening for interviews that speak to the present moment, but I’m hoping to revive conversations that could add new dimensions to our ideas about poetry’s role in a global society.

This month, I’ve chosen an episode from 2003, the radio program’s first year, which features an interview between Leonard Schwartz and Victor Reinking—translator of one of the best-known living Moroccan poets, Abdellatif Laâbi. Laâbi was imprisoned from 1972 to 1980 for “crimes of opinion,” and later sought exile in France. At a time when the Arab world seems to offer the greatest cry of resistance towards oppression, this interview serves for me as a reminder of the political possibilities that poetry can create. –Angela Buck

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Victor Reinking teaches French and African literatures at Seattle University. He edited and translated a volume of selected poems by Abdellatif Laâbi entitled The World’s Embrace and is currently working on a volume of Laâbi’s prison writings.

Poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, translator, storyteller and human-rights activist, Abdellatif Laâbi is one of the most prolific and critically acclaimed of contemporary North African writers. He was born in 1942 in Fez, Morocco. In 1966, he founded the avant-garde literary and artistic journal Souffles, which helped spark a literary and artistic renaissance throughout North Africa. Sentenced in 1972 to 10 years imprisonment for his political beliefs and his writings, he was released in 1980 after an international campaign in his defense. He has published 14 collections of poetry, four novels, a collection of plays for theatre, three children’s books, 10 collections of essays and profiles of artists and a book of letters from prison. Laâbi has also been active as a translator, and his French versions of major contemporary Arab authors (at last count, sixteen books) include, among others, works by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Moroccan poet Abdallah Zrika, Iraqi poet Abdelwahed Al Bayati, Syrian novelist Hanna Mina and an anthology of thirty-six contemporary Palestinian poets. Laâbi has received numerous prizes and awards for his work, including the Prix Goncourt de la Poésie in 2009 and the Grand Prix de la Francophonie of the Académie française in 2011.

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