The Last of Utopias: Poems by Alain Mabanckou

translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson

Alain Mabanckou is a critically acclaimed poet, novelist, and essayist from what is now called Congo-Brazzaville. He has twice been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix de la Littérature from the Académie française. Dubbed “the African Samuel Beckett” and “the Prince of the Absurd,” he is considered one of francophone Africa’s most prolific contemporary writers, and his prose has been translated into close to twenty languages. Mabanckou is outspoken against the civil wars and corrupt political regimes that have plagued Africa, so much so that he is unwelcome in his own country. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Stylistically, these untitled poems are compact and contain minimal upper-case letters and punctuation. The language is disarmingly simple, but the messages are uncompromising and clear, and often controversial. Music and wisdom infuse these texts that describe bleak landscapes, places steeped in mystery where “the wind also speaks.”

The three poems included in this selection come from As Long As Trees Take Root in the Earth and Other Poems, my NEA-supported project forthcoming from Seagull Books in Fall 2021. This publication will be the first time Mabanckou’s poetry has appeared in English in book form.

–Nancy Naomi Carlson

See Original Language See Translation

[there’s more to say]

there’s more to say about a grain of sand
than an elephant

freedom is on this side
make no mistake about it

the other world is the last of utopias
standing amidst the winds
here Paradise reaches its end

life’s a contingency


[and now the wind also speaks]

and now the wind also speaks
the leaves fly away
proclaiming the news

the current sweeps them along
in the swirl of the falls


[on Louboulou plain]

on Louboulou plain
a wild beast is in her death throes
an old hornless antelope
with panting tongue
perhaps the silhouette
or an ancestor’s double

what news will come
from the Loukoula’s opposite shore?

il y a plus à dire sur un grain de sable
que sur un éléphant

la liberté est de ce côté
qu’on ne s’y trompe pas

l’autre monde est la dernière des utopies
dressées au milieu des vents
le Paradis s’achève ici

vivre est une contingence



voici que le vent aussi parle
les feuilles s’envolent
annoncent la nouvelle

le courant les emporte
dans le tourbillon des cataractes



dans la plaine de Louboulou
une bête sauvage agonise
une vielle antilope décornée
l’oeil humide
la langue pantelante
peut-être la silhouette
le double d’un ancêtre

quelle nouvelle proviendra
de l’autre bord de la Loukoula

Published on April 9, 2021