Taha Muhammad Ali (1931-2011) was a celebrated Palestinian poet whose work was driven by a storyteller’s vivid imagination, disarming humour and unflinching honesty. Born in Saffuriyya in rural Galilee, he was left without a home when his village was destroyed during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, forcing his family to flee to Lebanon. Out of this history of shared loss and survival, he has created art of the first order. His poems portray experiences ranging from catastrophe to splendour, all the while preserving an essential human dignity.
His family later slipped back across the border and settled in Nazareth, where he lived for the rest of his life. An autodidact, he owned a souvenir shop near Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation. In Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Europe and in America, audiences were powerfully moved by his poetry of political complexity and humanity. His bilingual edition So What: New & Selected Poems 1971-2005, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin, was his first book to be published in the US (by Copper Canyon in 2006) and Britain (by Bloodaxe in 2007).
Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed him reading a selection of his poems with Peter Cole reading the translations when they came to Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 2007 to launch the book in Britain. The poems are ‘Abd el-Hadi Fights a Superpower’, ‘Warning’, four extracts from ‘Twigs’, ‘The Place Itself, or I Hope You Can’t Digest It’ (about 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).