Beyond the Barbed Wire is a selection of work by Morocco’s greatest living poet. Abdellatif Laâbi’s poetry and literary activism has inspired a generation of writers and thinkers, and it resulted in his decade-long imprisonment. This volume gives a career-spanning overview of Laâbi’s poetry, from the late 1960s to the 2010s. It includes a generous selection of the prison-writings of the 1970s, poems that speak from ‘beyond the borders of what is human’, as the poet writes, a hinterland of physical and emotional torture, in which hunger strikes are ‘the only weapon we’ve left’. Among these is a poem addressed to the poet’s cell, which is ‘right here / inside me / like a second body’, and another written piecemeal to friends on the outside and later reassembled. Beyond the Barbed Wire pays testament to the human need to speak in the face of censorship, that ‘epic of silence’. These poems, Laâbi’s ‘bitter fruits of the murderous twilight’, renew the possibility of a poetry that is genuinely urgent, necessary: a poetry of anger, anguish, love, wit, and hope, touched by a philosopher’s vision and perspicuity. The book includes an interview with the poet in which he discusses his practice, his views on education, his beliefs about a poet’s duty, the influence of his parents, and his optimism. With Laâbi’s renewed prominence in the Moroccan intellectual scene following the Arab Spring, and with a new generation of artists and activists looking to him as a source of inspiration, this book shows why Laâbi is more than Morocco’s leading poet, but also a guiding cultural and political force.
‘These extraordinary, energetic poems, which grab the reader by the throat both linguistically and morally, are about the power of language itself.’
Sue Hubbard, Poetry London
‘Laâbi's finest poems are virtuosic performances, turning political crises into poetic occasions and combining a flair for self-dramatization with stunning verbal inventiveness.’
Robyn Creswell, Harper’s Magazine
‘When it comes to “raising a song of possibilities above the dirge of cruelty”, Laâbi is still without rival.’
Stacy Hardy, The Chimurenga Chronic