On les tue par le feu, l’eau, l’électricité

On les tue par le feu, l’eau, l’électricité
Eux qui vécurent loin des sources
Et rêvant d’eau toute leur vie
Eux qui grelottaient, sans charbon
Au soleil glacé du Mouloud.
Eux qui veillaient sans lumière
Au fond d’un bidonville obscur. 

La première fois qu’il vit
De près
Une baignoire
Fut le dernier jour de sa vie.

by Madeleine Riffaud

They kill them with fire, water, electricity

They kill them with fire, water, electricity
Those who lived far from springs
Dreaming of water all their life
Those who shivered, without coal
In Mouloud’s frozen sun.
Those who lay awake in the dark
Buried in a gloomy slum. 

The first time he saw
A bath
Close up
Was the last day of his life.

by Madeleine Riffaud, translated by Alan Dent

Our 2018 International Poetry Competition is still open for entries – until 6 August! The competition has two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language – and this year is judged by the highly-acclaimed poet Kayo Chingonyi. You can find full details and enter here

We also just released our latest Poetry Centre podcast, in which Niall Munro talks to the award-winning Canadian poet Richard Harrison on his recent visit to Oxford. You can listen to the conversation via the Poetry Centre website.

‘They kill them with fire, water, electricity’ is copyright © Madeleine Riffaud. It is reprinted from Poets and the Algerian War, edited by Francis Combes and translated by Alan Dent (Smokestack Books, 2017) by permission of Smokestack Books

The Algerian War of Independence (1954-62) was one of the bloodiest post-1945 liberation struggles. Characterised by civilian massacres and the widespread use of torture, it led to the death and displacement of two million people. It was also the first major conflict since the Spanish Civil War to mobilize a generation of writers and artists to protest against the conduct of the war, most notably in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earthand Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers. In 1960 many of France’s leading writers and intellectuals – including Simon de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, André Breton, Pierre Boulez, François Truffaut and Marguerite Duras – signed Le Manifeste des 121, calling on the French government to renounce the use of torture in Algeria. Many writers found themselves on the front-line. The Algerian writer Mouloud Feraoun was assassinated by the OAS in 1962. They tried, unsuccessfully, to kill Madeleine Riffaud (the author of this week’s poem), who reported on the war for L’Humanité. There were two attempts on Sartre’s life.

This anthology, edited by Francis Combes and translated by Alan Dent, features some of the French poets who opposed the war, including Louis Aragon, Jacques Gaucheron, Madeleine Riffaud, Pierre Seghers, Henri Deluy and Guillevic, as well as Algerian poets like Jean Sénac, Kateb Yacine, Bachir Hadj Ali, Noureddine Aba, Messaour Boulanouar, Mohammed Dib, Omar El Bernaoui and Mohamed Saleh Baouiya. It also includes a remarkable series of poems written in memory of Maurice Audin, a young university lecturer and member of the Algerian Communist Party who was murdered by the French authorities. These poets are important, but not only as historical witnesses to a terrible war. They remind us of the possibilities and of the responsibilities of poetry in our own times. You can read more about the anthology on the Smokestack website.

Smokestack is an independent publisher of radical and unconventional poetry run by Andy Croft. Smokestack aims to keep open a space for what is left of the English radical poetic tradition in the twenty-first century. Smokestack champions poets who are unfashionable, radical, left-field and working a long way from the metropolitan centres of cultural authority. Smokestack is interested in the World as well as the Word; believes that poetry is a part of and not apart from society; argues that if poetry does not belong to everyone it is not poetry. Smokestack’s list includes books by John Berger, Michael Rosen, Katrina Porteous, Ian McMillan, Steve Ely, Bertolt Brecht (Germany), Gustavo Pereira (Venezuela), Heinrich Heine (Germany), Andras Mezei (Hungary), Yiannis Ritsos (Greece) and Victor Jara (Chile). You can find Smokestack on Facebook and on Twitter.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.