If you don’t fit neatly into a particular category, if you’re difficult for people to place, they won’t place you, their eyes might slide right over you and move on to someone else. And if you try to break down those categories and let others in, in some places, they’ll kill you for it.
It seems this is what happened to Jean Sénac. He defied categorisation: an Algerian liberationist who didn’t speak Arabic and had a Spanish mother, his French stepfather’s surname and language. He lived in Paris during the war of independence, but was linked to the National Liberation Front’s struggle to overthrow colonial rule from the French capital. He was a socialist – and gay. One thing he knew was that love and the revolution cannot be separated.
Michigan State University Press, who also published Rumi’s first Arabic poems in English in the same series, took Citizens of Beauty on last year, almost half a century after the original publication in 1967. Seven years after his poems were published in Paris, Sénac was stabbed to death in his flat. He’d already told his friends how to mark his passing…
When Sénac was writing this, he was home. Socialist Algeria had become a reality – but military dictatorship was just around the corner, and his unexplained death was soon to follow. Jack Hirschman translated these poems into English in 1974, the year after Sénac died, but it took 40 years of effort till the whole book was delivered to English-speaking readers. And now the words live on.