The Department of ELTS is delighted to share a review of the recently published translation of Professor Alain Mabanckou‘s book of poems, As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth and Other Poems, which was featured in The Los Angeles Review on October 26. 2021.
To view the full article, please click here.
Here is an excerpt taken from the article:
As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth and Other Poems consists of three parts: two thematically linked collections of poetry and an essay, all originally published in French during the period between 2000 and 2004. The individual poems are invariably short, pithy, and sometimes aphoristic; they are almost exclusively lyric, although narrative strands run through both collections. The extremely short poem as a form derives its power from precise crafting of both word and image, and Mabanckou is adept at conjuring a complex physical and emotional landscape in just a few words, as in his description of childhood memories lugged around “like a shell scrubbed clean / by marine salts” (4). But Mabanckou’s palette extends beyond the merely personal and picturesque: within the confines of the short form, he also takes on the complexities of war, poverty, politics, exile, memory, loss, and prophesy. When the poems succeed, as they almost always do here, they can be breathtaking.
The first section of the book, “When the Rooster Announces the Dawn of Another Day,” brings together fifty-seven short, untitled poems in a single cycle. As its name implies, this sequence of poems is set primarily in the depths of night: the first poem commences at midnight, when “death is moaning in dens” (3); elsewhere, Mabanckou writes of “death-vigil nights” (6). Over the course of the poetic sequence, several distinct tragedies unfold: the death of the speaker’s mother, human conflict and its concomitant trauma on the land and its people, the speaker’s loss of a homeland, and the failure of words in the face of grief. “[G]od turns his back on us” begin several of the poems (27, 31). “[W]hat will we have left” asks the speaker at one point (9), and the extended answer offers a vivid portrait of a troubled place:
we’ll still have the dew
of a passionate morning
the shadows’ song
in the screech owl’s throat
the sneering of macaques
in banana fields (10)