Donald Nicholson-Smith

In Praise of Defeat, by Donald Nicholson-Smith translating from the French by Abdellatif Laâbi

Griffin Poetry Prize 2017
Canadian Shortlist

Book: In Praise of Defeat

Translator: Donald Nicholson-Smith

Poet: Abdellatif Laâbi

Publisher: Archipelago Books

Click here to read an excerpt.


Donald Nicholson-Smith

Donald Nicholson-Smith is a translator and freelance editor. Born in Manchester, England, and a long-time resident of New York City, Nicholson-Smith’s many translations include the works of Jean-Patrick Manchette, Thierry Jonquet, Guy Debord, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Henri Lefebvre, Raoul Vaneigem, Antonin Artaud, Jean Laplanche, and Guillaume Apollinaire. He has also translated many texts dealing with psychology and social criticism. He won the 2015 French-American Foundation Translation Prize for his translation of Manchette’s The Mad and the Bad.

Abdellatif Laâbi

Abdellatif Laâbi, poet, novelist, playwright, translator, and political activist, was born in Fez, Morocco in 1942. He was the founder of Souffles, a left-leaning literary review banned by the Moroccan government in 1972. An outspoken critic of the authoritarian and theocratic regimes of the Maghreb, Laâbi was imprisoned in Morocco for eight years and later exiled to France. Deemed by Amnesty International a prisoner of conscience, Laâbi received the Prix de la Liberté and the Prix International de Poésie while imprisoned. He went on to receive the Prix Robert Ganzo de Poésie in 2008, the Prix Goncourt de la Poésie for his Œuvre complète in 2009, and the Grand Prix de la Francophonie from the Académie Française in 2011.

Judges’ Citation

“In this bilingual book (Laâbi’s original French and Nicolson-Smith’s English) – a book that is monumental both in size (over 800 pages) and in scope – we meet one of the major poets of our time, one who has lived through great and catastrophic events and responded to them with a passionate intelligent humanity. Laâbi can move from the simplest short poems about the delights of the body to complex meditations on war, violence and prison. That he does so in such an open, generous voice (so well communicated by the dedicated translator, since this must have been an epic labour of love for him) is one of the admirable aspects of Laâbi’s mind and art. The rhetorical pitch is perfectly judged. There is nothing glib about the eloquence, nor is there anything uncontrolled or self-indulgent about the fury when it rises. The poems are public in the best sense in that they address the reader as an equal, not as from a tower but in the street. The interest in Laâbi’s work is intense and growing and other fine books of translations from his work have become available. But this is a landmark.”


Abdellatif Laâbi is without a doubt the major francophone voice of Moroccan poetry today. Shaped by struggle and the pain of exile, Laâbi’s is a poetry of protest – internally tumultuous yet delicate verse that grapples with political and spiritual oppression. This collection of poems, selected by Laâbi himself, shows the evolution of his style. From the mutilated syntax and explosive verse of his early work to the subtle lyricism and elegant constructions of phrase that characterize him now, Laâbi never ceases searching, demanding, penetrating.

Note: Summaries are taken from promotional materials supplied by the publisher, unless otherwise noted.

The Wolves

I hear the wolves
They are nice and warm in their country houses
They watch television hungrily
For hours they count the corpses aloud
and sing advertising jingles at the top of their lungs
I see the wolves
Thirteen at table eating the day’s kill
electing their Judas of the moment on a show of hands
For hours they drink a local blood
still young, not too fruity
pallid as to color
the blood of a land where mass graves slumber
I hear the wolves
They turn their lights out at midnight
and rape their wives legally

From In Praise of Defeat by Donald Nicholson-Smith, translated from the French written by Abdellatif Laâbi
Copyright © La Difference and Abdellatif Laâbi
English language copyright © Donald Nicholson-Smith, 2016

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