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Review: State of Emergency, by Soleïman Adel Guémar

Robyn Marsack, Poetry Wales Vol.43 no.3 Winter 2008

'Emergency' suggests a terrible but transient state of affairs; it is quite clear from this volume that in Algeria, emergency has become the default setting, as it were. It has become a way of life - of death - and the emphasis is on the 'state' in every sense. Given this situation, it is no longer possible to function normally as a journalist or indeed as a poet: 'All a poet can do today is warn', wrote Wilfred Owen, but Guémar could not do so without sacrificing his safety....

Guémar writes about the tortured and the torturers, about systematic repression, the denial of civil rights, the corruption of society and acquiscence - insidious or deliberate - in that corruption and repression. It is fierce, direct political poetry that takes its force from both reported and personal experiences. While he describes and judges his compatriots, Guémar also sketches the landscape of a country he loves...

...the translators have argued persuasively for their choices... Very much at the service of their poet, they have retained his bluntness, his sardonic tone; rhymed where they could, and sometimes come up with brilliant solutions... The poet's pain song is also a plain song: on the whole, this is not the French poetry of high abstraction that puzzles the Anglophone readers. It has a sensual immediacy of sun and sand and scent that might be expected from a Mediterranean sensibility...

Speaking directly to his readers out of experience mercifully unfamiliar to most of them, Guémar warns us in the way that only a poet can, by being true to his vision in words that sing - and sting - across the barriers.