I read on Qadita this morning that the Palestinian autodidact and poet Taha Muhammad Ali has died. He will be buried later today.
Ali was born in the Palestinian village of Saffuriya in 1931, and his formal education ended in grade four. A few years later, Ali fled to Lebanon during the 1948 Nakba. But in 1949, he returned to Nazareth, making it his home. There, he established a souvenir shop and taught himself poetry, which he began writing in the 1970s.
His poetry has since become widely known for its terseness and its intimacy, its familiarity and colloquial turns, and its humor.
Adina Hoffman brought Ali a larger English-language audience in 2009 with her acclaimed biography of the poet, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness. Ali has two collections in English: So What: New & Selected Poems and Never Mind: Twenty Poems and a Story, translated by Peter Cole.
From Ali’s “Twigs”:
it has taken me
all of sixty years
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.
Three of Ali’s poems on Poetry International Web: “Fooling the Killers,” “Meeting at an Airport,” and “Post-operative Complications Following the Extraction of Memory.”
On Sakakini, two poems: “Warning” and “Thrombosis in the Veins of Petroleum.”
Gabriel Levin: Reflections on Taha Muhammad Ali
Adina Hoffman talking with PBS Art Beat about her biography of Ali.
Al Sharq al-Awsat: طه محمد علي: أنا تلميذ في مدرسة المطالعة.. ولن أتخرج منها إلا للقبر
Here, Taha Muhammad Ali reads his poem “Revenge”:
And the poem that Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole sent out, with the notice about Ali’s death:
Tea and Sleep
If, over this world, there’s a ruler
who holds in his hand bestowal and seizure,
at whose command seeds are sewn,
as with his will the harvest ripens,
I turn in prayer, asking him
to decree for the hour of my demise,
when my days draw to an end,
that I’ll be sitting and taking a sip
of weak tea with a little sugar
from my favorite glass
in the gentlest shade of the late afternoon
during the summer.
And if not tea and afternoon,
then let it be the hour
of my sweet sleep just after dawn.
And may my compensation be—
if in fact I see compensation—
I who during my time in this world
didn’t split open an ant’s belly,
and never deprived an orphan of money,
didn’t cheat on measures of oil
or violate a swallow’s veil;
who always lit a lamp
at the shrine of our lord, Shihab a-Din,
on Friday evenings,
and never sought to beat my friends
or neighbors at games,
or even those I simply knew;
I who stole neither wheat nor grain
and did not pilfer tools
that now, for me, it be ordained
that once a month,
or every other,
I be allowed to see
the one my vision has been denied—
since that day I parted
from her when we were young.
But as for the pleasures of the world to come,
all I’ll ask
of them will be—
the bliss of sleep, and tea.