Habib Tengour grew up in eastern Algeria, where he became fascinated by the storytellers in the bazaar. In 1959, he and his parents moved to France for political reasons. This was where he discovered the works of writers like Victor Hugo and Rimbaud, and studied sociology and anthropology. He has spent his whole life travelling between Algeria and France and currently works as a university lecturer in both countries.
Tengour made his debut in 1976 with a surrealist manifesto:: Tapapakitaques, la poésie-île. Since then he has written dozens of poetry collections, prose works and essay collections. His work is inspired as much by western writers like James Joyce and the surrealists as by pre-Islamic poetry, the Mu’allaka, classic epic lyrical poems about life in the desert, love and religion.
Tengour’s poetry unites tradition and modernity, here and there, reality and the world of dreams and is characterised by great freedom and diversity of form. He experiments with the blank space of the page, which lends his poems a strong spatial dimension. Tengour writes compact, carefully-constructed sentences with sober punctuation, which are given an unpolished and strongly associative effect by their elliptical character, like grains of sand in the desert, rough and multi-facetted.
Tengour has developed into a powerful visionary voice in the poetry of the Maghreb, the north-western region of Africa. Tengour plays with the imagination and sweeps up the reader in his breath-taking poetry on post-colonialism, nomadism and identity. He is sometimes dubbed the ‘poète de la transe’ and for good reason. Tengour is capable of laying down his words – which often celebrate the power and limitation of language – like a landscape. Phrases are set down like buildings and roads. His poems offer us then a view of his birthplace Mostaganem, or representations of other real and, in particular, invented cities.