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So What | Bloodaxe Books

Taha Muhammad Ali

So What

New & Selected Poems 1971-2005

Taha Muhammad Ali

Publication Date : 15 Nov 2007

ISBN: 9781852247928

Pages: 65
Size :216 x 138mm
Rights: World

Translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin

Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation

Taha Muhammad Ali (1931-2011) was a much celebrated Palestinian poet whose work is driven by a storyteller’s vivid imagination, disarming humour and unflinching honesty. Born in rural Galilee, Muhammad Ali was left without a home when his village was destroyed during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Out of this history of shared loss and survival, he created art of the first order. His poems portray experiences ranging from catastrophe to splendour, all the while preserving an essential human dignity.

‘Taha Muhammad Ali speaks with an emotional forthrightness and unflinching honesty that at times reminds me of the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, at times of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. He writes in a literary Arabic grounded in the vernacular and rooted in local custom… He has developed a style that seems both ancient and new, deceptively simply and movingly direct’ – Edward Hirsch, Washington Post

‘Bittersweet, powerful verse’ – New York Sun

‘In Muhammad Ali’s world, what appears to be placid can suddenly become disconcerting…. He is a beguiling storyteller who maintains a tone of credibility and lucidity without diluting the mysterious or distressing aspects of his tale. By avoiding commonplace response to everyday experience [he] has written poems that are fragile and graceful and fresh’ – John Palatella, The Nation

‘Taha Muhammad Ali’s patient, insistent and often beautiful iterations of who he is and what is what are as compelling and evocative as the faces and places that any reader has himself or herself loved…the poet’s vision of experience is equally applicable to Arabs and Jews, kings and paupers, the quarter of the world’s population that is Chinese, and the other threequarters as well’ – Ha’aretz (Israel)

‘The translation from the Arabic is excellent, and the introduction is masterly’ – Issa Boullata, World Literature Today

‘An exceptional translation’ – Rain Taxi

Click here to read a tribute to Taha Muhammad Ali on Bloodaxe Blogs.


Taha Muhammad Ali (1931-2011)

Taha Muhammad Ali and translator Peter Cole came to Britain in November 2007 to launch his book So What at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed them before their festival event. Here they read ‘Abd el-Hadi Fights a Superpower’, ‘Warning’, four extracts from ‘Twigs’, ‘The Place Itself, or I Hope You Can’t Digest It’ (about the destroyed village of Saffuriyya) and ‘Nothing More’. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). 

Arabic-English Bilingual Edition

North America: Copper Canyon Press




Tender Spot
The Butterfly's Burden
Cold Water Shielded
A Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor





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