Poetry News

Introduction to Jean Sénac at Warscapes

By Harriet Staff

Jean Senac

Last year marked the fortieth anniversary of the Algerian poet's death. Warscapes, a journal that presents the work of writers effected by war and conflict, introduces us to Jean Sénac's writing and legacy. Kai Krienke (also a translator of Sénac's writing) writes:

July 5th 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of Algeria’s independence. Albert Camus’s 100th birthday was celebrated a year later, on November 7th 2013. To many Albert Camus came to represent Algerian literature even though he, a pied noir, came from a European (French/Spanish) family and moved to Paris in the early 1940s. The fact is, the celebration of Albert Camus’s literature in the West, especially since the publication of The Stranger in 1942, has obscured a much larger body of Algerian writing which includes the works of Kateb Yacine, Mohammed Dib, Jean Amrouche, Mouloud Feraoun, Leila Sebbar, Assia Djebar, Yousef Sebti, Noureddine Tidafi, Tahar Djaout and many others.

2013 also marks 40 years since the assassination of Jean Sénac. Sénac was also a pied noir poet, and was Camus’s protégé for over ten years until they diverged over the Algerian War. While Camus was in favor of a “peaceful” solution to the Algerian conflict, which would maintain French presence and influence, Sénac was adamantly in support of an independence he foresaw from the very beginning. The significance of the life and work of Jean Sénac, one of Algeria’s most influential 20th century poets, is yet to be recognized. Most of his work remains to this day untranslated.

Sénac, who shared very similar European roots with Camus (both had Spanish mothers), is a rare if not unique example of a pied noir poet who not only wrote fervently revolutionary and patriotic poetry, such as Matinale de mon peuple (Dawn of my People, 1961), and Citoyens de beauté (Citizens of Beauty, 1967), but was a defining figure of Algeria’s cultural scene both before and after Algeria’s independence.

The reasons for Sénac’s marginality in both French and Algerian literature are connected to the political circumstances of the Algerian War and Revolution and to the politics of his poetry which simultaneously condemned French colonialism and the post-independence military governments which he thought had betrayed the Algerian people. Most controversial, though, was his open homosexuality in the poetry he wrote after 1965, in which he tied his personal sexual liberation to fundamental aspirations of the Algerian revolution.

Sénac promoted many Algerian artists, writers and poets through the two literary journals he created—Soleil in 1950 and Terrasses in 1953. The wildly popular poetry readings that he organized at Radio Alger served as a forum where he presented not only young Algerian poets, but revolutionary poetry from all over the world, including American Beat and African-American poets. He was editor of several anthologies, and director of “Galerie 54,” which exhibited Algerian painters of the Nahda (Renaissance) generation. [...]

Learn more at Warscapes.

Originally Published: March 4th, 2014