The Poetic Justice Project
Poetic Justice is a volume of Moroccan Contemporary poetry. With a nod to the romantic nationalism of the 1930s and 40s, the work is comprised of poets who began writing after Moroccan independence in 1956.
The genesis of Poetic Justice
I began working on these translations in 1994 when I lived in Rabat. The movement to instantiate Moroccan Arabic as a literary language was just beginning in those years. I attended a festival of zajal – Moroccan poetry in dialect – where both Ahmed Lemsyeh and Driss Mesnaoui were reading. Impressed with their oeuvre, I began translating their work into English. I attended meetings of the Moroccan Writer’s Union. I met other poets, most writing in classical Arabic. I had a decisive meeting with poet and literary scholar Mohammed Bennis. I travelled to Tangier to hear Wafa Lamrani read, and sought her out in Casablanca. I was interviewed on television, as a scholar interested in contemporary poetry. The project was on. I quickly turned my attention to classical Arabic, and then to French.
Why “Poetic Justice”?
Poetic Justice because Moroccan poetry (and especially zajal) is published in newspapers and is thus a vibrant form of social commentary. Poetic Justice because there is a law, a justice, in the aesthetic act that speaks back to the law of the land. Poetic Justice because literature has the power to shape the cultural and moral imagination in profound ways (Nussbaum 1995).
Largely thanks to the internet, Moroccan poets speak to international audiences in journals such as Banipal and Arabic Literature (in English). Well-known poets like Marilyn Hacker have brought Rachida Madani to the English-speaking world. Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour have brought a millennium of North African poets together in one volume. International poetry festivals like the PEN Writers festival in New York City have welcomed Moroccan poets and writers, as have organizations such as Citylore. The journal Souffles is now thriving.
Poetic Justice is a contribution to these ongoing endeavors. It is by no means a history of Moroccan poetry. Indeed, the youngest generation of poets are not represented here. Reading the oeuvre from independence until the new millenium however, it is clear that what Driss Mesnaoui calls the “letters of time” have fallen into the hands of Moroccan poets, as they translate and write what they and their readers are.