Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ahren Warner's Confer

Photo: Eleanor Irving

Ahren Warner on his Bloodaxe debut collection Confer:

'Confer' is derived from the Latin 'conferre' which harbours three meanings: to compile, to bestow and to compare. Inevitably, as a first collection, 'to compile' is particularly resonant, encompassing as it does the peculiar practice of gathering together and ordering one's poems. 

However, the meaning of the book's title as 'compare' is the most important to me. Lucian Freud once said that he wants "paint to work as flesh…to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them". Split between two cities — London and Paris — there is a sense in which many of these poems attempt embodiments of place that are best understood against the inevitable flux of the places themselves; a kind of parallax, for example, between Paris as one might actually experience it and Paris as it is (not as it has been experienced) in the poem. 

There are also a fair amount of poems that allude to other literary and extra-literary sources. Eliot wrote that there are two types of allusion – extensive and intensive – and to the extent that I hope such allusions are extensive, the process of comparison (between the allusion and the alluded to) seems to me as much part of the poems as the words they contain.

Finally, 'confer' as a synonym for 'bestow' seems to most emphatically concern those poems in the book that shun normal punctuation and find their grammar in a kind of spacing dependent on uniform line lengths to bestow a common musical measure. This is a form I've worked in for a while (though one which I’m moving away from) and which attempts to offer a greater range of intonational and affective pauses in order to perform a forceful but complex music: the ideal of a fugue con fuoco, perhaps.


Two Recommendations: Durs Grünbein's Ashes for Breakfast (Faber) and C.K. Williams' Collected Poems (Bloodaxe).


Ahren Warner's comment is reprinted from the PBS Bulletin (Autumn 2011) with the kind permission of the Poetry Book Society and the author. Each quarter the Poetry Book Society's judges select one Choice and four Recommendations (along with one or more Special Recommendations and a Recommended Translation). The five chosen or recommended poets are invited to write a comment on their collections for the PBS Bulletin – something of great interest to poetry readers since most published commentary on new poetry books is by reviewers not by the poets themselves. Ahren Warner's Confer, published by Bloodaxe Books in September, is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for the autumn quarter.


About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters…

Though, when it comes to breasts, it’s a different story.
Cranach, for example, never seems to have progressed
beyond his pubescent attempts at apprenticeship:

tennis balls sewn to a pillow of hay, fingers coming
to terms with the concept of foreplay. So too
with Titian, whose Venus bares handleless plungers

or the fruits of a template mocked up at Bellini’s.
For breasts, you want Rochegrosse, his Chevalier
surrounded by breasts real enough to have men

gripping their gallery plans discreetly; or Picabia
at his most garish: his naked, peroxidised blonde
stretching to coddle her slavering mutt. Her breasts

impress their tender weight upon us, and though
not as lofty as Pieter would have liked, she too
knows something of our weakness; that we fall

and are floored as much by the salt lure of skin.



The varieties of household paint proliferate;
Crown’s glosses, matts and silks spill over,
fill the book I find between Catullus

and Celan. Donaghy and Donne
flank a Dulux brochure. And yes
I’m trying to show how well-read I am,

or trying a line between compulsion
and abandon – the just-off alphabetical
I’ve whittled to a totem – a prop

with which to strut the bounds
of personality. Contradiction in coherence
expresses the force of desire
, apparently.



That note, in Buckley’s rendition
of Cohen, should exist

as the only definition for ‘fucked’
– as in ‘I’m fucked’.

There is a point, somewhere,
around twenty seconds in

to a Seattle-birthed song
that embodies the word ‘abandon’.

So too with the dab of his foot
to the Whirlwind Selector turning

acoustic to distortion;
the sublating of silence that occurs

in that bar of the Allegro
of that Bruch Konzertstück.

There was a girl at school who’d say
I’d end up a rock star or in prison.

I’m neither, have nothing,
but an art I’ve been learning

too long; a subject
I’ve studied beyond flogged.


Poetry Book Society Recommendation
Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection

Confer is a book between two cities – London and Paris – with detours via rural and small-town England, drunkenness and death camps in Bavaria, the American absurd and the lost libraries of the Roman Empire. It contains love and lust poems, variations on Baudelaire and conversations with Nietzsche and Auden.

This impressive debut collection by a young poet already well-known for his innovative, highly musical poetry draws its energy from an interplay between melody and intellect. Ahren Warner’s poems seek to amplify the effect of our common experiences and to attenuate the everyday within a matrix of philosophy and art, language and its intervals.

‘In these poems, Mozart rubs shoulders with Hesiod, Cranach with Picabia, Nietzsche with Fitzgerald, Rodin with Rochegrosse. But what animates this first full collection is the constant and beguiling presence of the central character - arch-flâneur, would-be mauvais garçon, Lincolnshire small-town escapee, irreverent scholar - picking his way through these crowded streets, savouring his impressions of all that he encounters and inviting the reader to join him. Ahren Warner has almost invented a new kind of Fin de siècle’ – Annie Freud

‘Even before this first collection, Ahren Warner has become an influential poet, with his trademark tabulations and his unlikely mix of youthful humour and academic nous. Confer confers upon him the status of a central figure in a new generation of British poets’ – Roddy Lumsden

Ahren Warner was born in 1986, and grew up in Lincolnshire before moving to London. He has published his work widely in magazines and anthologies, including Identity Parade and Voice Recognition from Bloodaxe, and in Re:, a pamphlet from Donut Press. His first book-length collection, Confer (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2010 and is completing a PhD in philosophy and literature at the University of London. He divides his time between Paris and London.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Tomas Tranströmer wins the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature

Nobel Prize edition, with cover photograph by Paula Tranströmer

Sweden's greatest living poet, Tomas Tranströmer, has won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. The announcement was made today (6 October) by the Swedish Academy. He is Scandinavia’s best-known and most influential contemporary poet. His books sell thousands of copies in Sweden, and his work has been translated into 50 languages, with substantial or complete editions of his work published in 19 languages.

Bloodaxe Books has been publishing Tranströmer’s work for the past 25 years, starting with his Collected Poems in 1987, translated by Robin Fulton. Fulton's prize-winning translation is the most authoritative and comprehensive edition of his poetry published anywhere in English. He has worked with Tranströmer on each of his collections as they have been published over many years, which has involved detailed exchanges between translator and poet on the meaning and music of numerous poems.

A revised and expanded edition of New Collected Poems was published in April 2011 on the occasion of Tranströmer's 80th birthday. This is a complete translation of all the collections Tranströmer has published in Swedish, from 17 Poems (1954) to The Great Enigma (2004). Following today's announcement, all the remaining copies sold within hours and an immediate reprint was ordered. An e-book will be available as a Kindle edition very shortly. A US edition of New Collected Poems was sublicensed to New Directions in 2006 who publish the book in America under the title The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems.

Tranströmer's New Collected Poems received a highly appreciative review from Paul Batchelor in The Guardian in June: 'Fulton is to be applauded for bringing into English a unique sensibility, a haunting voice, and images of such incisive clarity that they can permanently alter your perceptions.' To read the whole review, click on this link.

Guardian article: 'Nobel prize for literature goes to Tomas Tranströmer' (click this link to read this report)

Photo: Paula Tranströmer

Tomas Transtromer's 80th birthday

Tomas Tranströmer celebrated his 80th birthday in April of this year. To mark the occasion, Bloodaxe Books published its new expanded edition of his New Collected Poems, the award-winning definitive translation of all his poetry by Robin Fulton.

In Sweden, Daphne Records released Dagsmeja: Emma Tranströmer sjunger Tomas Tranströmer (Noon Thaw: Emma Tranströmer sings Tomas Tranströmer). This is a recording of settings of eighteen poems by Tranströmer performed by his daughter Emma Tranströmer, pianist Andreas Kreuger, guitarist David Härenstam and violinist Bernt Lysell. The main musical emphasis is on Fredrik Jakobsson, an outstandingly talented Swedish composer largely unknown to the general public. Emma also includes a couple of songs by the more established Maurice Karkoff, who recently completed two new Tranströmer settings, plus a few songs by Håkan Parkman, who died in a tragic drowning accident in August 1988, aged only 33.

The project began, Emma says, with the Dagsmeja concert performance at the Gävle Concert Hall in 2007. 'Dagsmeja is a tribute to my father, above all perhaps as a guide in the art of humane living, but also as reflected through his own poetry. Pianist Andreas Kreuger and I had a labour of love in finding the very music which felt perfectly fitting for the occasion.'

Three of the poems they chose for the concert and CD are printed below, with the translations by Robin Fulton from Tranströmer's New Collected Poems  which accompany them in the CD booklet – this includes all the poems in the Swedish original with Fulton's translations, along with accounts of the project by Emma Tranströmer and by scholar Niklas Schiöler (who contributes a fascinating piece called 'Reading is listening' on Tranströmer and music). The CD cover shows J.M.W. Turner's painting Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844), which hangs in the National Gallery in London. Tranströmer's poem 'A Sketch from 1844' pictures Turner making a sketch possibly featuring the same train.

A Sketch from 1844

William Turner’s face is weather-brown
he has set up his easel far out among the breakers.
We follow the silver-green cable down in the depths.

He wades out in the shelving kingdom of death.
A train rolls in. Come closer.
Rain, rain travels over us.

En skiss från 1844

William Turners ansikte är brunt av väder
han har sitt staffli längst ute bland bränningarna.
Vi följer den silvergröna kabeln ner i djupen.

Han vadar ut i det långgrunda dödsriket.
Ett tåg rullar in. Kom närmare.
Regn, regn färdas över oss.

[from The Wild-Market Square, 1983]


Från mars -79

Trött på alla som kommer med ord, ord men inget språk
for jag till den snötäckta ön.
Det vilda har inga ord
De oskrivna sidorna breder ut sig åt alla håll!
Jag stöter på spåren av rådjursklövar i snön.
Språk men inga ord.

From March 1979

Weary of all who come with words, words but no language
I make my way to the snow-covered island.
The untamed has no words.
The unwritten pages spread out on every side!
I come upon the tracks of deer’s hooves in the snow.
Language but no words.

[from The Wild-Market Square, 1983]


April och tystnad

Våren ligger öde.
Det sammetsmörka diket
krälar vid min sida
utan spegelbilder

Det enda som lyser
är gula blommor.

Jag bärs i min skugga
som en fiol
i sin svarta låda.

Det enda jag vill säga
glimmar utom räckhåll
som silvret
hos pantlånaren.

April and Silence

Spring lies desolate.
The velvet-dark ditch
crawls by my side
without reflections.

The only thing that shines
is yellow flowers.

I am carried in my shadow
like a violin
in its black case.

The only thing I want to say
glitters out of reach
like the silver
in a pawnbroker’s.

[from The Sad Gondola, 1996]

About Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer has been called a ‘buzzard poet’ (by Lasse Söderberg) because his haunting, visionary poetry shows the world from a height, in a mystic dimension, but brings every detail of the natural world into sharp focus. His poems are often explorations of the borderland between sleep and waking, between the conscious and unconscious states.

He is Scandinavia’s best-known and most influential contemporary poet. His books sell thousands of copies in Sweden, and his work has been translated into 50 languages, with substantial or complete editions of his work published in 19 languages.

Tranströmer was born in 1931 in Stockholm, where he grew up, but spent many long summers on the island of Runmarö in the nearby archipelago, evoking that landscape in his early work, which draws on the aesthetic tradition of Swedish nature poetry. His later poetry is more personal, open and relaxed, often reflecting his broad interests: travel, music, painting, archaeology and natural sciences.

Many of his poems use compressed description and concentrate on a single distinct image as a catalyst for psychological insight and metaphysical interpretation. This acts as a meeting-point or threshold between conflicting elements or forces: sea and land, man and nature, freedom and control. His translator Robin Fulton has noted how such images ‘leap out from the page, so that the first-time reader or listener has the feeling of being given something very tangible, at once’, which has made Tranströmer’s poetry amenable to translation into other languages. But while acknowledging Tranströmer’s view that ‘a poem can exist beneath or prior to a particular language and can therefore emerge in any number of tongues’, Fulton maintains that ‘the best versions of his poems are those he made himself in his own language’. Yet such is the power of Tranströmer’s ‘deep image’ poetry that several American poets have been influenced by his work, via translations.

Tranströmer started writing poetry while at the oppressive Södra Latin Grammar School (its atmosphere caught by Ingmar Bergman in Alf Sjöberg’s Frenzy, which was filmed there, the young Tomas amongst the pupils). But he was devouring books on all subjects, especially geography, with daily visits to the local library, where he worked his way through most of the non-fiction shelves. However, this bookish adolescence was shadowed by the war, by his parents’ divorce and the absence of his father, and at 15 he experienced a winter of psychological crisis (described in ‘Exorcism’, printed below). He published his first collection, 17 Poems, in 1954, at the age of 23.

After studying psychology at the University of Stockholm, he worked at its Psychotechnological Institute, and in 1960 became a psychologist at Roxtuna, a young offenders institution. From the mid-1960s he divided his time between his writing and his work as a psychologist, and in 1965 moved with his family to Västerås, where he spent the rest of his working life. He now lives in Stockholm.

Like the scientist-poet Miroslav Holub, Tranströmer sees no division between his own two fields, poetry and psychology. In an interview in 1973 he responded to Gunnar Harding’s question about how his writing related to his work as a psychologist:

'I believe there is a very close connection, though it can’t be seen. Everything one writes is an expression of a gathered experience. And the problems one meets in the world at large are present to a very great extent in what I write, though it doesn’t always show directly. But it’s close to hand, all the time.'

In 1990, a year after the publication of his tenth book of poems, Tranströmer suffered a stroke, which deprived him of most of his speech and partly inhibited movement on his right-hand side. Swedish composers have since written several left-hand piano pieces especially for him to play.

Since his stroke, he has published a short book of ‘autobiographical chapters’, Memories Look at Me (1993), and a new collection, The Sad Gondola (1996), both included in Robin Fulton’s translation of his New Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 1997), expanded from his 1987 Collected Poems from Bloodaxe. In 2004 he published The Great Enigma, a slim volume containing five short poems and a group of 45 even smaller haiku-type poems. These were added to the New Collected Poems to form Tranströmer’s first collected edition to appear in the States, licensed by Bloodaxe Books to New Directions in 2006 under the title The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems. That edition was published by Bloodaxe Books in the UK as the latest revised and expanded edition of New Collected Poems in 2011.

Tranströmer has also translated other poets into Swedish, including Robert Bly and Hungary’s János Pilinszky. Before winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011, he had won many other international awards for his poetry, including the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in the US, the Bonner Award for Poetry, Germany’s Petrarch Prize, the Bellman Prize, the Swedish Academy’s Nordic Prize, and the August Prize. In 1997 the city of Västerås established a special Tranströmer Prize. In 2007, he received a special Lifetime Recognition Award given by the trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, which also awards the annual Griffin Poetry Prize.

Tranströmer has been tipped to win the Nobel Prize in Literature on a number of occasions, most recently in 2010, as the Guardian reported, only for Mario Vargas Llosa to pip him at the post.

Robin Fulton has worked with Tranströmer on each of his collections as they have been published over many years, and his award-winning translation New Collected Poems is the most authoritative and comprehensive edition of his poetry published anywhere. It received a highly appreciative review from Paul Batchelor in The Guardian in June: 'Fulton is to be applauded for bringing into English a unique sensibility, a haunting voice, and images of such incisive clarity that they can permanently alter your perceptions.' To read the whole review, click on this link.

As well as complete translations of all his poetry collections, Tomas Tranströmer's New Collected Poems includes his 1993 prose memoir, Memories Look at Me, from which this autobiographical sketch is taken:


During the winter when I was 15 I was afflicted by a severe form of anxiety. I was trapped by a searchlight which radiated not light but darkness. I was caught each afternoon as twilight fell and not released from that terrible grip until next day dawned. I slept very little, I sat up in bed, usually with a thick book before me. I read several thick books in that period but I can’t say I really read them for they left no trace in my memory. The books were a pretext for leaving the light on.

It began in late autumn. One evening I’d gone to the cinema and seen Squandered Days, a film about an alcoholic. He finishes in a state of delirium – a harrowing sequence which today I would perhaps find rather childish. But not then.

As I lay down to sleep I reran the film in my mind’s eye, as one does after being at the cinema.

Suddenly the atmosphere in the room was tense with dread. Something took total possession of me. Suddenly my body started shaking, especially my legs. I was a clockwork toy which had been wound up and now rattled and jumped helplessly. The cramps were quite beyond the control of my will, I had never experienced anything like this. I screamed for help and Mother came through. Gradually the cramps ebbed out. And did not return. But my dread intensified and from dusk to dawn would not leave me alone. The feeling that dominated my nights was the terror which Fritz Lang came near to catching in certain scenes of Dr Mabuse’s Testament, especially the opening scene – a print works where someone hides while the machines and everything else vibrate. I recognised myself in this immediately, although my nights were quieter.

The most important element in my existence was Illness. The world was a vast hospital. I saw before me human beings deformed in body and in soul. The light burned and tried to hold off the terrible faces but sometimes I would doze off, my eyelids would close, and the terrible faces would suddenly be closing in on me.

It all happened in silence, yet within the silence voices were endlessly busy. The wallpaper pattern made faces. Now and then the silence would be broken by a ticking in the walls. Produced by what? By whom? By me? The walls crackled because my sick thoughts wanted them to. So much the worse… Was I insane? Almost.

I was afraid of drifting into madness but in general I did not feel threatened by any kind of illness – it was scarcely a case of hypochondria – but it was rather the total power of illness that aroused terror. As in a film where an innocuous apartment interior changes its character entirely when ominous music is heard, I now experienced the outer world quite differently because it included my awareness of that domination wielded by sickness. A few years previously I had wanted to be an explorer. Now I had pushed my way into an unknown country where I had never wanted to be. I had discovered an evil power. Or rather, the evil power had discovered me.

I read recently about some teenagers who lost all their joy in living because they became obsessed with the idea that AIDS had taken over the world. They would have understood me.

Mother had witnessed the cramps I suffered that evening in late autumn as my crisis began. But after that she had to be held outside it all. Everyone had to be excluded, what was going on was just too terrible to be talked about. I was surrounded by ghosts. I myself was a ghost. A ghost that walked to school every morning and sat through the lessons without revealing its secret. School had become a breathing space, my dread wasn’t the same there. It was my private life that was haunted. Everything was upside down.

At that time I was sceptical towards all forms of religion and I certainly said no prayers. If the crisis had arisen a few years later I would have been able to experience it as a revelation, something that would rouse me, like Siddhartha’s four encounters (with an old person, with a sick person, with a corpse, and with a begging monk). I would have managed to feel a little more sympathy for and a little less dread of the deformed and the sick who invaded my nocturnal consciousness. But then, caught in my dread, religiously coloured explanations were not available to me. No prayers, but attempts at exorcism by way of music. It was during that period I began to hammer at the piano in earnest.

And all the time I was growing. At the beginning of that autumn term I was one of the smallest in the class, but by its end I was one of the tallest. As if the dread I lived in were a kind of fertiliser helping the plant to shoot up.

Winter moved towards its end and the days lengthened. Now, miraculously, the darkness in my own life withdrew. It happened gradually and I was slow in realising fully what was happening. One spring evening I discovered that all my terrors were now marginal. I sat with some friends philosophising and smoking cigars. It was time to walk home through the pale spring night and I had no feeling at all of terrors waiting for me at home.

Still, it is something I have taken part in. Possibly my most important experience. But it came to an end. I thought it was Inferno but it was Purgatory.


All the English translations of poetry and prose by Tomas Tranströmer in this blog posting are by Robin Fulton from New Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011).

Monday, 3 October 2011

Taha Muhammad Ali (1931-2011)

Photo: Nina Subin

We are very sad to report the death of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali. He died in Nazareth on Sunday (2nd October). His translator Peter Cole writes: 'As all who encountered the man and his work know, Taha’s imagination was expansive, and several years back he had, as it happens, already conjured his final hours as he’d liked them to have been…'

This is one of his later poems, from So What: New & Selected Poems 1971-2005, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin (published by Copper Canyon in the US in 2006 and by Bloodaxe Books in the UK in 2007):

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
would ask —
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.


In this video Taha Muhammad Ali reads his poem 'Abd el-Hadi Fights a Superpower' in Arabic and then Peter Cole reads his English translation, from So What: New & Selected Poems 1971-2005. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Taha with Peter Cole when he visited Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November 2007. This film is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008), which includes four poems from So What read by Taha Muhammad Ali with Peter Cole.

Abd el-Hadi Fights a Superpower

In his life
he neither wrote nor read.
In his life he
didn’t cut down a single tree,
didn’t slit the throat
of a single calf.
In his life he did not speak
of the New York Times
behind its back,
didn’t raise
his voice to a soul
except in his saying:
“Come in, please,
by God, you can’t refuse.”


Nevertheless —
his case is hopeless,
his situation
His God-given rights are a grain of salt
tossed into the sea.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
about his enemies
my client knows not a thing.

And I can assure you,
were he to encounter
the entire crew
of the aircraft carrier Enterprise,
he’d serve them eggs
sunny-side up,
and labneh
fresh from the bag.


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.

He was born in 1931 in the village of Saffuriyya, Galilee. At 17 he fled to Lebanon with his family after the village came under heavy bombardment during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. A year later they slipped back across the border and settled in Nazareth, where he lived until his death in 2011. An autodidact, he owned a souvenir shop now run by his sons near Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation. He published several collections of poetry and one volume of short stories. So What: New & Selected Poems 1971-2005 (Copper Canyon Press, USA, 2006; Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2007).

In his introduction to So What, Gabriel Levin writes: ‘Muhammad Ali writes a literary Arabic that occasionally incorporates or, as he puts it, “grafts” onto the classical forms certain elements of a quasi-colloquial and often idiosyncratic Arabic, along with – in some instances – full-fledged dialect when his characters speak. In contrast to the stylised, heightened diction of most of his contemporaries, Muhammad Ali’s lower register anchors the poetry to a sense of place without ever sounding merely like dialect. […] Arabic poets and critics have pointed out that Muhammad Ali’s originality (and even his relevance to the Palestinian cause) lies precisely in his blending of registers and employment of natural, homespun imagery – both of which contribute to the poetry’s apparent simplicity while belying all along its complex sensibility. Saffuriyya may have been razed to the ground, but its mores, language, and landscape remain paradigms of durable hope in the poet’s imagination. In effect the rhetoric and technique of Muhammad Ali’s poetry constitute yet another means of clinging to his home and land, and of being a samid – a term coined by Palestinians in the late 70s and meaning one who holds on tenaciously to his land and its culture and perseveres in adverse times.’

The Bloodaxe UK edition of So What was a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation, and was launched in November 2007 at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Adina Hoffman's acclaimed biography of Taha Muhammad Ali, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century (Yale University Press, 2009), won the 2010 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize. 

In Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Europe and in America, audiences were powerfully moved by Taha Muhammad Ali’s poems of political complexity and humanity. Aldeburgh Poetry Festival director Naomi Jaffa last saw him when he gave his only UK reading in 2007: 'I knew he was extremely frail, now, and obviously a considerable age - but I'm extremely sad to know that Taha is gone. He - together with Peter Cole - was an absolute sensation at Aldeburgh - the only standing ovation, with people weeping, I've ever experienced at the Festival. And they were the same at the Dodge Poetry Festival in 2002 - where I encountered Taha and his poems. What a man. What a loss.'

Review comments on So What

‘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