Shedding Light on Hacker’s ‘For Kateb Yacine’

By The Editors on 10.01.10

There is a poem in Marilyn Hacker’s latest collection, Names, titled, “For Kateb Yacine.” For those that don’t know, Yacine was an Algerian playwright, novelist, poet, and activist who passed away in 1989. In a recent interview with The Huffington Post, Hacker was asked about this poem specifically:

Huffington Post: “What is your relationship to Algerian writer Kateb Yacine? I mean, as a writer imagining/idealizing a writer. Is there a sense in which you almost envy someone like Yacine, for the reality of his exile?”

Hacker responded:

“Kateb (born in 1929 to a Berber family in Constantine) was a sometime-exile who became a national hero in Algeria as well as a French writer championed by the French avant-garde. From 1970 on, he wrote—and directed and produced—plays in Algerian dialectal Arabic (when practically no one had attempted literature in dialectal language) following, and preceding, plays, novels and poetry in French. “I write in French to tell the French that I am not French,” he once wrote. He was (nonetheless?) awarded the French government’s Grand Prix national des lettres in 1987.

When he died in Grenoble—of leukemia, at barely 60, in 1989—an Algerian fundamentalist mufti issued a fatwa saying that he should not be buried in Algeria, or on Islamic soil—but he had a hero’s funeral, attended by thousands, in Algeria nonetheless. (Like that of Mahmoud Darwish in Ramallah…and there is something similar in the place that each holds nationally.) Kateb was an outspoken proponent of women’s rights, and the Algerian women refused the tradition that they should not take part in the funeral procession: they, too, accompanied his coffin to the grave.

In short, or long, if I envy Kateb anything it is his polyvalent and polyglot genius! He may have resembled the “exiles” in the sequence on one cold afternoon or another, but he was not cut off from the literatures or the life of either of his countries, and his marginality was that of an ideological and aesthetic rebel. (His experience of exile was not that of a Marina Tsvetaeva, or a Joseph Roth.)”

Here’s a short excerpt from Marilyn Hacker’s poem “For Kateb Yacine”:

Yes, war will come and we will demonstrate;
war will come and reams of contraband
reportage posted on the Internet
will flesh out censored stories, second-hand.
Tire-treads lumbering towards its already-fixed
moment jump the interval: this war, the next.

Read the full Huffington Post interview.

topics: News