Le Coudre Grinçant de l'Anarchie

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Hawad has a unique voice, one that in its quieter moments fills with the wry observations of a latter-day Benjamin of Toledo, a traveler abroad in the world. He is a North African outsider, a poet who sees Europe from the perspective of a desert nomad...


Reviewed by Joe Lockard

Wednesday, June 2 1999, 4:33 PM

Poetry born of simultaneous realism and hallucination rings with a special fever. Towards the conclusion of Hawad's long work, Le Coudre Grinçant de l'Anarchie [The Creaking Elbow of Anarchy], appear lines that describe this poetic voice, one both within and outside the poet's control:

Et voici les failles, poèmes frénétiques, obsession, bouillonnements et chants incantoires des âmes... [canto XX]

Hawad has a unique voice, one that in its quieter moments fills with the wry observations of a latter-day Benjamin of Toledo, a traveler abroad in the world. He is a North African outsider, a poet who sees Europe from the perspective of a desert nomad, a stateless mind from a culture born long before and now rejecting the artificial constraints of nation states.

Currently living in Aix en Provence, Hawad chants and writes in his native Tuareg, and translates his poetry into French with his wife, Helene Claudot. Since the mid-1980s he has published ten volumes and his work has been translated into Italian, Dutch and Arabic. The Arabic translation by Adonis, likely the most influential modern Arabic poet, testifies to the interest his work has elicited. In France, his work is heavily read in anarchist circles, for reasons beyond the above title.

In her introduction, Claudot locates Hawad's poetry in a rebellious and anarchistic space, "the wild and rebellious world that knows neither God nor master," over which the State has attempted to exert its authority. She argues that this poetry echoes the precarious situation of the Tuaregs, who --- particularly in their home regions in Niger and Mali --- are resisting efforts to force them into alien national cultures. The pogroms, exile and starvation that have been visited upon the Tuaregs have remained virtually unreported by international media. The poetry's tone, both ironic and outraged, responds to "the genocidal violence of these artificial, chaotic and destructive states that have attempted to eliminate all the independent actors, all the scorned communities."

Hawad identifies himself explicitly with the rights of the excluded, refugees, marginalized and powerless peoples, and the simple vagabonds of the world. The existential conditions of the Tuareg people, travelling across the Saharan interior, speak to far broader social and personal explorations. Following this vein, Hawad begins his own poetic traverses by invoking the voice of Rosa Luxemburg as a fighter for dreams, whose meanings are as recognizable for an anti-cosmopolitan on camelback as for Europeans.

The text, composed of thirty-one numbered cantos, progresses through invocations, reflections, cautions, and battle cries voiced in a quasi-prophetic chant. Hawad's language undulates and rolls; it spirals upwards and downwards; it swings rapidly in its direction of address, emphasizing an incorporative plural along with his personal reportage of the world.

Hawad has no use for the cultural conventions of atavistic religion or for its contemporary equivalent, faith in technology. In typical execretory language, he rejects technological ideologies:

Nous ferons hurler le crottin des rosses dans le tympan cireux des ordinateurs, prêtres, cervelles multipliant intérêts et bénéfices, chiffres et nombres chimères d'une magie, pour qui la souris électronique n'est qu'un vulgarie Antéchrist borgne monté sur une rosse comme le serviteur de Don Quichotte. [canto VIII]

Hawad assembles the Tuareg tribes, in their blue-faced alienation from Europe and the Americas, for a metaphoric journey through international airport waiting lounges and inhospitable foreign streets. Yet he continually searches out the human commonalities between the desperate geographies of his poetic visions. In canto XXVII, one of his most militant, Hawad invokes a metaphoric communion and shared intercontinental purpose that begins with a Chicana in Los Angeles and spreads to other distant lives.

It is at moments such as these that Hawad assumes the risks of overextension and social triteness; but, it is by risking such moments that passionate intercultural engagement appears. If on the one hand many passages have the concentrated and succulent lyricism of Dino Campana, there are also the raging and broad tones of Allen Ginsberg seeking to elicit meaning forward for all.

Hawad's poetry is not yet available in English translation, a situation that hopefully will be remedied. This book also features Hawad's brush and inkwash illustration, which provide contemplative visual accompaniment to the poetry.

Paris, Éditions Paris-Méditerranée, 1998 

Copyright © 1999 by Joe Lockard. All rights reserved.

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