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As Long As Trees Take Root in the Earth

and Other Poems

A hopeful, music-infused poetry collection from Congolese poet Alain Mabanckou.

These compelling poems by novelist and essayist Alain Mabanckou conjure nostalgia for an African childhood where the fauna, flora, sounds, and smells evoke snapshots of a life forever gone. Mabanckou’s poetry is frank and forthright, urging his compatriots to no longer be held hostage by the civil wars and political upheavals that have ravaged their country and to embrace a new era of self-determination where the village roosters can sing again.
These music-infused texts, beautifully translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson and supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, appear together in English for the first time. In these pages, Mabanckou pays tribute to his beloved mother, as well as to the regenerative power of nature, and especially of trees, whose roots are a metaphor for the poet’s roots, anchored in the red earth of his birthplace. Mabanckou’s yearning for the land of his ancestors is even more poignant because he has been declared persona non grata in his homeland, now called Congo-Brazzaville, due to his biting criticism of the country’s regime. Despite these barriers, his poetry exudes hope that nature’s resilience will lead humankind on the path to redemption and reconciliation.

124 pages | 6 1/4 x 9

The Africa List

African Studies


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"Alain Mabanckou’s As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth and Other Poems, translated from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson, is the long-overdue English-language debut of one of the world’s most prominent Francophone poets. . . . Nancy Naomi Carlson’s sensitive and painstaking translations of this powerful, important writer are a boon to anyone interested in the world of Francophone letters."

The Los Angeles Review

"Alain Mabanckou a native of the Congo and a longtime professor at UCLA, is one of the world’s leading francophone authors. If you’re the author of a novel (Verre cassée/Broken Glass) that The Guardian has called one of the best one hundred novels of the century, it may be difficult to be taken as seriously as a poet. And yet Mabanckou has also been publishing books of poems since 1993 . The present edition includes two of his most recent volumes, the first and only translation of any complete poetry books to be published in English. I, for one, am grateful, and I imagine others will be also."

World Literature Today

Table of Contents

1. As Long as Trees Take Root in the Earth
2. When the Rooster Announces the Dawn of Another Day
3. An Open Letter to Those Who Are Killing Poetry


It’s midnight
Shrews and pangolins
Already roam the banks
Of the Loukoula
Death is moaning in dens
Thickets of silence
Suddenly stir
My torch has gone out
I’m haunted by words
I can’t wait to complete
This tale
Before the break of day
Now the eyes shut halfway
Dreams are diverted
As soon as you drift off
Towards the shores of that childhood
You lug around
Like a shell scrubbed clean
By marine salts
Borders go astray
Remember streams
Mayombe forest
Congo River
Backbone of the homeland
You think you are writing
For relief
And you realize that words
Incubate scars
Of unfulfilled moments
The shadow precedes the hand
The extinguished light
Finds the murmur again
Of death vigil nights
Long is the distance
That’s the only way
People can value
The path
Don’t forget
Without birds
Without trees
Without rivers
No forest exists

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