Here are 3 things that are on my mind:
1) I’d like to apologize to anyone who has tried to post a comment and then never saw it published. I didn’t quite realize that I had to moderate the comments, first, in order for them to show up on the blog. I sincerely hope that you are all very patient people, who take a long view of time.
2) The end page on Shambhala Sun magazine is a really nice forum, where writers reflect upon a poem they love. When an editor contacted me to contribute an essay, I thought of all the lovely poems I would like to write about. And then I thought, No, why not use this as an opportunity to learn about a new poem and a new poet? I’d just gotten back from Israel and Palestine, and so I decided to look for a poet from that troubled region. I’d read some Israeli poetry in the past, but I’d never read any Palestinian poets. So I googled around, and quickly discovered Taha Muhammad Ali, an astonishingly wonderful poet who now lives in Nazareth and also operates a souvenir stand at the entrance to the Church of the Annunciation, selling post cards and menorahs and busts of the Virgin Mary to busloads of tourists.
I read what poems I could find of his online, and then I ordered his collection “So What: New & Selected poems, 1971 – 2005.” The poem I chose to write about is called Revenge, and I chose it because I found it so deeply moving, and because it expresses, in the most direct and surprising way, ideas like non-separation, forgiveness, refraining, and compassion, all of which are often talked about in a Buddhist context, too. So here’s a link to the poem and an excerpt of my essay. (You can find the essay in its entirety in the May, 2010, issue of Shambhala Sun, and maybe they will give me a pdf I can post here at some point, too.)
The problem with writing, especially short essays, is that so much of the information you dig up in your research never gets used. I find this frustrating, because I’m kind of obsessive, and I want to share my enthusiasms, in all their rich and abundant detail. Most of the time, I refrain, but Taha Muhammad Ali is an important poet, and I think everyone should read him, so here are some of the links to his poetry and to other information about him.
Here’s a really interesting PBS Newshour show about Palestinian identity, regained through poetry. Jeffrey Brown interviews three Palestinian poets, Samih Al-Qasim, Ghassan Zaqutan and Taha Muhammad Ali. The interview with Taha is so moving, and it’s wonderful to see his beautiful face.
Here’s a link to a YouTube video of Taha reading Revenge, in 2006, for the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. Taha reads the poem in Arabic, then Peter Cole, his friend and English translator, reads it in English.
Here’s his page at the Center for the Art of Translation website, where some of his other poems are published. And a link to the English PEN World Atlas, with more biographical information and a video of a conversation between him and Peter Cole.
Here’s his page at poetry dispatch & other notes from the underground with some more poems. It’s where I found this astonishing photograph of him, reading, taken by Nina Subin (which I cannot resist republishing here, with thanks).
Here’s his page at the Israel – Poetry International Web with more links to poems and to other websites with information about him.
And finally, if you become as enthusiastic and enchanted as I did, you can also order a beautifully written and exquisitely researched biography of him, “My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century,” by Adina Hoffman, and published by Yale University Press. Here’s a link to a review of the book in The National, entitled, “The Middle Voice.” Here’s another review on the BADIL Resource Center which is a website for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.
3) I know I had a third thing on my mind, but now I’ve forgotten what it is. Oh, well. I’ll just go ahead and post this, and if it comes back to me, I’ll write again…
4) This is what I want carved on my gravestone: