Outsider Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (41): The Song of the Azria

Adapted by Pierre Joris from Y. Georges Kerhuel's French version

Editorial note: The following is part of Pierre Joris’s ongoing exploration of North African (Maghreb) culture, a work as big & multifaceted as his own sense of the dynamics & far reach of poetic imagination & fancy. Yet the stakes here, as with much real poetry, go well beyond poesis as such, to exemplify & expose an area of religion & sexuality that has been a given in many parts of the world, “from origins to present.” Here the azria (courtesan) asserts the role of the outsider, still not forgotten, to raise new/old powers of body & mind in the service of vision & desire. (J.R.)


I am beautiful Azria
I am unfaithful Azria
I am the tender fruit
of a tree with tight clusters
I smile at everyone
I hate marriage
& for no price
will I admit slavery
I wear no veil
I hate all cloth
my happiness is
beauty and youth
my black eyes’
mysterious gaze
has the power
to enthrall my lovers
my Queen Kahina face
is more than bait
my mouth is made of honey
perfectly real
he who tastes it once
will return for more
my chest & its high breasts
draws in the holiest looks
while below my belt
lies nature’s sacred temple
where the faithful come to sin
in love my heart
often lies for
I am Azria
remorseless Azria
I accept the weak and the strong
I am carefree Azria
and my life is my life
my pride comes from my freedom
my life is crazy gaiety
from the most noble to the ugliest
my lovers are innumerable
I am Azria the dancer
who makes women jealous
I am the singer
I am the crooner
my gorgeous voice
opens all doors


Commentary


[Writes Joris selbst]: “This eponymous song, arranged by Y. Georges Kerhuel & included in the Encyclopédie de lamour en islam Tome 1 (edit. Malek Chabel), speaks to the specific situation of Shawia Berber society in the Aurès mountains (northeastern Algeria). Mathéa Gaudry, a lawyer at the Appellate Court in Algiers, wrote about the Shawia courtesans in a treatise on Aurès culture in the 1920s: ‘The power of the Shawia woman does not pale with time. Knowledge of occult sciences, the prerogative of the elder, only reinforces it. […] The azria is a courtesan who received who she wants and goes where she wants. She sings, dances, plays cards, smokes and goes to cafés. No triviality in her manners; to the contrary: a tranquil self-assurance and often a natural distinction are her mark. Her courtiers’ enthusiasm surrounds her. They all show her a quasi-religious submission. When she intervenes, a fight will stop immediately.’”