When conceptualizing our fiftieth anniversary anthology, A House Called Tomorrow, Michael Wiegers wanted to ensure the collection was created through a collaborative process that celebrated not only fifty years of poetry, but also the people that made that poetry possible. He reached out to our community members to suggest a few of their favorite Copper Canyon Press poems and to tell us why those poems were so important to them. “Twigs” by Taha Muhammad Ali was the number one recommended poem.
Read “Twigs” in full below and how this special poem touched our community members’ lives. You can find more stories like these in Come Shining: More Poems and Stories from Fifty Years of Poetry, forthcoming in September 2023.
Taha Muhammad Ali
from So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971–2005, 2006
Translated from the Arabic by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin
fame, nor wealth,
not even poetry itself,
could provide consolation
for life’s brevity,
or the fact that King Lear
is a mere eighty pages long and comes to an end,
and for the thought that one might suffer greatly
on account of a rebellious child.
My love for you
is what’s magnificent,
but I, you, and the others,
are ordinary people.
goes beyond poetry
beyond the realm of women.
it has taken me
all of sixty years
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.
After we die,
and the weary heart
has lowered its final eyelid
on all that we’ve done,
and on all that we’ve longed for,
and all that we’ve dreamt of,
all we’ve desired
hate will be
the first thing
to turn to dust
Why “Twigs”? Because it is beautiful and, like all Taha’s work, puts a human hand to history. Because “. . . art is worthless / unless it plants / a measure of splendor in people’s hearts.” Because Taha recited it to me in Nazareth in 2007 and wrote an inscription in Arabic: “Dear Jeff, Welcome to our house.”
—Jeffrey Brown, Copper Canyon Press poet
Taha Muhammad Ali came to my home with Peter Cole and, for the first time, I heard Arabic aloud in words of poetry. The ancient sounds washed over me as Taha read in Arabic and then Peter translated his work into English. I felt like I woke to a hidden love, a music kept from me.
—Sarah Cavanaugh, Copper Canyon Press Board member
Founding Board member of Merwin Conservatory
Taha Muhammad Ali’s “Twigs” was one of the first poems I read by a Copper Canyon poet. I was in South Africa, and intensely intrigued by this poetry-only publisher in the United States that was publishing a Palestinian poet with English translations alongside the original Arabic. Who was this publisher? I had to know—this was one of the factors that led to my internship with the Press in 2007, then as the editor of Push Open the Window, and now, back in South Africa, as one of the Press’s copyeditors.
I will always be grateful to Taha for this poem, and for leading me to Copper Canyon. I have the framed broadside in my living room, where it reminds me every day “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.”