Why does a poet from an island with a Dutch name write in French? Mauritius was colonised by Dutch seamen, and later on by the French, who shipped slaves from Africa to work on the sugar plantations, and after that by the British who replaced the slaves with coolies from India. The island only gained its independence in 1968. Most of the inhabitants speak a version of Creole related to French.
It comes as no surprise then that Umar Timol, a poet from such a melting pot, should opt for une langue-errance (a vagrant language), larding his French with neologisms and defining his poetry as a ‘quête de sens’, a quest for sense, but also for sensuality. At the same time, his work is also a quest for the shadowy regions in himself. “In my everyday life I often get the feeling that a hidden world flourishes in us and that now and then, when a barrier gives way, a poem is created.”
Timol studied literature at University College, London. A decisive influence in his fascination with words was Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. For a long time he wanted to shake off the yoke of the western poetic tradition and go in search of other horizons, but he admits now that he cannot escape his own history, or history as such. He continues to look for a balance between the images and the words that convey them. The title of his first collection is La Parole Testament. His ‘speech’ turns its back on the ordinary use of language. By turning words inside out, giving them new associations and meanings, and by devising new combinations, Timol aims to strip language naked and thus reach that element in himself that is unspeakable.
He seeks and he rebels, but he also hankers after a faith – in the other, in woman, in childhood or in the divine. His second collection, Sang, is a long mystical love song written in the Sufi tradition and inspired by Aimé Césaire, the founder of the concept of négritude. In his third collection, Vagabondages suivi de Bleu, the poet shows both his tortured, violent side and his gentle nature that only wants happiness. Umar Timol, who makes his living as a teacher, is a poet who aspires to take every form and style – in fact every genre – and appropriate them for himself.
La Parole Testament suivi de Chimie, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2003
Sang, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2004
Vagabondages suivi de Bleu, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2009
Timol’s poems and stories have appeared in the following anthologies and publications:
Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie mauricienne, Promo-Plus, Beau-Bassin (Mauritius), 1999
La Cendre des mots; Après l’incendie de la bibliothèque de Bagdad, textes sur l'indicible, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2004
Hurricane, cris d’insulaires, Desnel, Fort-de-France, Martinique, 2005
Of Principles and Struggles / Kestyon prensip / Affaires de principes, Immedia, Port-Louis, Mauritius, 2005
Prosopopées urbaines, Anthologie poétique d’inédits, Suzanne Dracius, Desnel, Fort-de-France (Martinique), 2006
Ethiopiques 77, Senegal, 2006
Nouvelles Sensuelles / Sensuous Short Stories / Sansyel Esansyel, Immedia (Mauritius), 2006
Histoires incroyables / Incredible Short Stories / Zistwar Pa Fasil Gobe, Immedia (Mauritius), 2007
Carnavalesques 2007, Éditions Aspect, Nancy, France, 2007
Rainbow Humour / Gigi Gidi / Rire sous le soleil, Immedia, Mauritius, 2008
40 poet, enn rekey, Ledikasyon pu Travayer, Mauritius, 2008
Riveneuve Continents, Escales en mer indienne, Riveneuve Éditions, Paris, 2009
Chroniques de l’île Maurice, Sépia, Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France, 2009
Arbre de Nouvelles / Zistwar lanatir / Once Upon a Tree, Immedia, Mauritius, 2009
International Journal of Francophone Studies, Vol. 13. Nos 3 and 4, University of Leeds, Leeds, 2011
Comic strip in Visions d’Afrique, Umar Timol, Jason Kibiswa, Pov, Christophe Ngalle Edimo, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2010
Aphorisms in Les Affreurismes®, Editions Kiltir.com (internet publication)
You can find an extensive interview with Umar Timol here (in French).