Birth City, State, Country
Joyce Mansour (born Joyce Patricia Adès) was a Syrian Jewish poet from England and a native English speaker, but she wrote in French. Though part of a larger group of Surrealist artists like Roberto Matta, Wilfredo Lam, Pierre Alechinsky, and André Breton, Mansour (rhymes with blur) is not even well-known in French literature. Mansour’s poetry is best categorized as erotic, Surrealist, passionate, but with an attention to death which is around the corner. Her work is framed, too, by two catastrophic events: her mother’s death when she was 15 and her husband’s death of cancer after they had been married only six months when she was 18 and he was 21. Her first book, Cris (Screams in English), came out in 1953 and her last, Trous Noirs (or Black Holes) in 1986.
Mansour had this to say about what her poetry is, “a scream:”
“I went to the cemetery for a Muslim funeral. Suddenly a woman started to scream. The scream began, at first very deep, in the belly and became more and more shrill, deafening; it seemed to come from the top of the skull, you know, the fontanel, from which religions often say that the soul escapes at the moment of death. It’s terrifying. That is poetry. I write between two doors, all of a sudden, like that woman who started to scream.”
From a 2023 perspective, Mansour is a powerful voice in the #MeToo movement, though she obviously predates that. Shame is not a part of Mansour’s work. She writes muscularly and insistently about desire and all that that entails: eroticism, but also as a way to conjure revolt.
She died of cancer in 1986.
Emerald Wounds: Selected Poems (City Lights Publishers, 2023)
Essential Poems and Writings of Joyce Mansour (Black Widow Press, 2008)