In Praise of Defeat: Selected Poems


Translated from by

Published: January 17, 2017



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Book Description

Abdellatif Laâbi is without a doubt the major francophone voice of Moroccan poetry today.  Shaped by struggle and the pain of exile, Laâbi’s expressive simplicity reflects both a life worn to the bone and a resilient, embracing spirit. Laâbi’s is a poetry of protestinternally 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.


There is unfathomable beauty and unspeakable sorrow laced throughout this 800-page bilingual opus of poems by Moroccan writer Abdellatif Laâbi, which speaks to his feeling of exile from his own language and his displacement within his own country, mired in the mess of colonialism. Donald Nicholson-Smith skillfully carves out a space for English to accommodate Laâbi’s vigorous and vital voice.
Emma Ramadan, The Center for the Art of Translation Best Books of the Decade list

Each poem testifies to Laâbi's revolt against silencing, oppression, and exclusion, promoting an alternative world based on resistance, love, and commitment...Laâbi reaffirms the ability of poetry to transcend borders, celebrate human desires, and denounce atrocities and horror, from Madrid to Baghdad.

Khalid Lyamlahy, The Poetry Review

The great power and subtlety of the work lies in the fine balance it strikes between that Peter Pan–like sensitivity, vulnerability and imagination, and the brutality of the real world, history and politics.

The Daily Star, Lebanon

Keeping pace with the long poems that are Abdellatif Laâbi's distinctive achievement – the poems of torture and imprisonment in Morocco, or 'People of Madrid, Pardon' written in response to the train bombings of 2004 – an English-speaking reader like me inevitably keeps waiting for the public voice, the high style of anger and compassion, to falter or overreach. But Laâbi's voice does neither. Donald Nicholson-Smith's translations hold fast to this poetry's unnerving eloquence and simplicity, and its hell-for-leather speed.

T.J. Clark

As the new collection In Praise of Defeat, deftly translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, shows, Laâbi’s early poems are poems of protest and of incarceration. They powerfully evoke the need for poetry to bear witness...In Praise of Defeat presents a poet-activist who was born in the direst possible circumstances, survived them, and has continued on a trajectory of art and activism. He shows any poet how the artistic space created by “poet, activist, former prisoner, exile” is the space where the most crucial acts of art happen.

Emily Wolahan, The Quarterly Conversation

Laâbi's poetic voice consistently raises a song of possibilities above the dirge of cruelty.

Victor Reinking

Laâbi has always been interested in inviting his readers to imagine what it would look like for a society to publicly honor, rather than privately imprison, the poets responsible for unmaking its own language.

Max Nelson, The Paris Review

Abdellatif Laâbi’s rhythm and flow come through in these incantatory verses of struggle and love for a reimagined land. He may be heeded or ignored, but the prophet-poet has spoken.

Christopher Schaefer, World Literature Today

As In Praise of Defeat shows, Laâbi’s early poems are poems of protest and of incarceration. They powerfully evoke the need for poetry to bear witness.

Two Lines Press

That Laâbi recognizes the link between understanding our time and understanding memory is profound, and should serve as an example to other authors.
Jordan Anderson, The Coffin Factory

Laâbi is by some credited ... with re-invigorating French poetry and outdoing the poets of metropolitan France... Laâbi’s writing has become a constant taking stock in relation to the ominously changing world, continually raiding the inarticulate, pitting himself against ‘aphasia’ and the self-imputation of failure, painting an apocalyptic picture but eventually sounding the soft music of hope... In Praise of Defeat is a lovable brick of 800+ pages...
Leslie Bell, PN Review

In Praise of Defeat allows us the rare pleasure of watching a revolutionary mind work tirelessly over time and through all manner of political weather in pursuit of that route -- it's a towering demonstration of what it means to make poetry, and its capacity to dignify and elevate the small and sometimes miserable details of struggle into a practice of struggle.
Ryan Kaveh Sheldon, American Book Review

This profile at The Majalla focuses on the political resistance of Abdellatif Laâbi’s poetry.

Read an interview with Abdellatif Laâbi in the Quarterly Conversation.

In this interview with Kristen Privallet, featured on double change, the author discusses poetry and language.

Read two poems from In Praise of Defeat over at BOMB.

Listen to Donald Nicholson-Smith speak about Laâbi and read from In Praise of Defeat here.

Lebanese-American writer Kaelen Wilson-Goldie mentions In Praise of Defeat in her 2016 roundup for Frieze.

In this interview with the Griffin Poetry Prize Finalists, Donald Nicholson-Smith discusses the endurance of poetry.

Shortlisted for the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize.