Weekly Poem: Remembering Taha Muhammad Ali

Taha Muhammad Ali was born in 1931 in the Galilee village of Saffuriya. After fleeing to Lebanon during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, Muhammad Ali and his family settled in Nazareth where they have lived since. He and his sons have been operating a souvenir shop there for decades. Muhammad Ali died Sunday in Nazareth.

I spoke with Ali in 2007 along with several other Palestinian poets. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:

Muhammad Ali began his poetry career late, in 1983. He has published several collections of poetry and is also writes short stories. He has published two collections in English: “Never Mind: Twenty Poems and a Story” (2000) and “So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971-2005” (2006).

With just a fourth-grade education, he was a self-taught man — a voracious reader who quotes Steinbeck and Shakespeare as well as classical Arabic poetry. He decided to be a writer as a boy and worked daily to make it happen.

“I thought that, if I want to express myself, I have to know what is poetry and what is good poetry. And this went together, reading and trying to write,” Muhammad Ali said in our 2007 interview. “The art is to take from life something real, then to build it anew with your imagination.”

He demonstrated that art when he read for us a section of his 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.