Born in Saffuriyya in the Galilee, Taha Muhammad Ali settled in Nazareth after the 1948 Arab-Israel war. There, he owned a souvenir shop near the Church of the Annunciation, which became a meeting place for local and visiting writers. Host Marcela Sulak tells Ali’s charming fairytale about how his craft was tested by a visitor who came daily to his shop, and had to be bribed with an olive-wood camel to hear Ali’s latest poem.
Ali’s poetry is written in literary Arabic, “grounded in the vernacular, and rooted in local custom.” He writes long ballads about his lost home, his lost love, and the frustrations and complexities of Palestinian life. Even his invectives are full of self-irony, and a gentleness of spirit found only in those of great integrity.
Marcela ends by reading his most quoted passages, from the poem ‘Twigs’:
“And so/ it has taken me/ all of sixty years/ to understand / that water is the finest drink, / and bread the most delicious food, / and that art is worthless/ unless it plants/ a measure of splendor in people’s hearts.”
So What Taha Muhammad Ali. New and Selectd Poems 1971-2005. Translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi & Gavriel Levin. Bloodaxe Books, 2007.
My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness. A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century, by Adina Hoffman. Yale University Press, 2009.