From “Skinned Alive”

Donald Nicholson-Smith, translated from the French written by Abdellatif Laâbi

copyright ©2016

How easy the inquisitor’s questions are! Compare them, he says, with the questions I sometimes dare not ask myself:
What hidden tribe gave you gangrene?
Are you utterly untainted by power?
Have you broken all the mirrors?
From what weaknesses do you draw your strength?
What taboos govern your rectitude?
Why do you pay lip service to the scope of your ignorance?
Do you not sometimes settle for a mere approximation of what you really wanted to say? Are you not sometimes annoyed by your own most righteous passions? Do you know not sometimes tend to curse your fine reasons for living?
Are you not a little prone to play the martyr?

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week is from the 2017 Griffin-shortlisted collection In Praise of Defeat by Donald Nicholson-Smith, translated from the French written by Abdellatif Laâbi. Of the collection, the judges said “...Laâbi can move from the simplest short poems about the delight 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 in the street.” Listen to Translator Donald Nicholson-Smith and poet Abdellatif Laabi read from In Praise of Defeat here. The Griffin Poetry Prize is one of few prizes accepting literature in translation. We are accepting submissions for our 2022 Prize until Dec. 31st. Please follow this link to learn more about our submission guidelines.

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