State of Emergency

 PEN PROMOTES white on black


State of Emergency by Soleïman Adel Guémar
Translated from French by Tom Cheesman and John Goodby
Published by Arc, June 2007

The poems in this collection are lucid, moving and sometimes shocking. Rooted in Algerian experience, they speak of urgent concerns everywhere: oppression, resistance, state violence and private dreams and traumas. The introduction to this volume by Lisa Appignanesi makes a powerful argument for the importance of Guémar’s poetry in bringing to the world outside of Algeria, an understanding of the political, social and artistic repression that exists in that country today. She writes: “In Soleïman Adel Guémar, Britain has inadvertently inherited a political poet of stature, one whose language sings whether he is attacking the face of grim authority or dreaming of that other asylum which is an imagined Algeria of peace…Deceptively casual, colloquial in their idiom, always dramatic in their pessimism, Guémar’s poems are a searing howl against the brutality which invades everyday Algerian life…This volume marks an important moment: a record from the inside of a history which is too palpably of our times. Where before we had only newspaper headlines, stereotypical Algerians, or the dry, if conscientious, reports of NGOs, we now have a living voice, both political and lyrical – an intensely individual voice which speaks out freely and traces the lineaments of a tragic history.”


Soleïman Adel Guémar was born in 1963 into a left-wing political family of Berber ancestry. He studied electrical engineering in the army, spent 2 years in France working in publishing, then, at the promise of free national elections, returned to Algeria in 1991 to work for (among others) the weekly newspaper L’Evènement. The elections were cancelled when an Islamist party won a landslide at local elections and L’Evènement was banned.. For 10 years, Guémar worked in Algeria as a freelance journalist and publisher, but when he applied for a permit to publish a magazine of investigative journalism, he fell foul of the regime and was subjected to a campaign of violent intimidation. In December 2002, he arrived at Heathrow, claiming political asylum and, two years later, was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, where he now lives with his family in South Wales.

Tom Cheesman was born in Liverpool and grew up in County Durham. He is a senior lecturer in German at Swansea University, a volunteer with the Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group, and a trustee of the charities DPIA (Displaced People in Action) and Croeso. He lived in Germany and France before settling in Swansea in 1990. He helped edit Home and Away: Diaspora Voices (Index on Censorship 31/3 2002).

John Goodby researches and publishes on modern British poetry, Irish literature and culture since 1940 and is the author of a libretto and a collection of poems. The English Department’s Postgraduate Conven-or, with personal responsibility for the English M.A. scheme, he is a member of its Research Committee. He helped to establish the M.A. Creative and Media Writing at UWS, for which he teaches the core course on poetry.


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