One of the foremost Palestinian poets and a major figure in the Arab world, Samih al-Qasim was born in 1939, in Zarqa, Jordan to a Palestinian Druze family from the Galilee. He grew up in the village of Rama and experienced the Palestinian tragedy of 1948 first hand, achieving fame as one of the celebrated “resistance poets” during the 1950s. His first book was published when he was just eighteen, and over the decades he has produced a body of work that is as varied and innovative as it is large. Today a citizen of Israel and still a resident of Rama, Samih al-Qasim is an outspoken opponent of racism and oppression on all sides of the Middle East conflict. Given the richness of al-Qasim’s work, and its centrality to Arabic literature at large, it is surprising that his poetry remains almost unknown in English to non-specialists.
This bilingual collection will, it is hoped, help to correct that state of affairs, since one cannot really claim to understand modern Palestinian letters without reading Samih al-Qasim. Sadder Than Water collects poems from his various periods and modes and makes available to English readers for the first time ever the full range of al-Qasim’s oeuvre, which is characterized by its ironic approach to painfully charged political situations, its melancholy music, and its lyrical evocation of Palestinian heritage.
“The poetry of place, of where the poet lives and of which he knows deeply, could hardly have greater worldwide resonance than in the poetry of Samih al-Qasim…. Prophetic … diamond-bright works.”
“The experiences of indignity, humiliation, privation and misrepresentation … are the recurring subjects of Sadder than Water, and al-Qasim explores them fruitfully [and] ironically…. Equally striking are the poems in which al-Qasim forgoes irony and struggles directly with the paralysis induced by acute existential bewilderment…. In [the long, title poem of this collection], this style flowers furiously into a bittersweet and melancholy song.”
John Palattella, The Nation
“Brilliant … youthful and daring.”
“When we read his poetry … amid the torrent of despairing poems that poured forth [after 1967] we felt an extraordinary power surging forth … from the depths of despair and misfortune, defying despair and misfortune.”
“Al-Qasim’s new poems … are close to the hearts of oppressed people everywhere.”
SAMIH AL-QASIM is the author of over thirty books of poetry, several novels, collections of plays, essays, and criticism. He appears regularly at literary festivals throughout the Arab world and in Europe, his work has been translated into many languages, and editions of his collected poems have been published in Beirut and in Cairo.
To watch an interview with Samih al-Qasim from “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” click here then click “streaming video.”
NAZIH KASSIS is a lexicographer and translator of contemporary Arabic prose and poetry. He received his doctorate in linguistics from the University of Exeter and has compiled, edited, and translated several dictionaries. He has taught English and Arabic at the University of Haifa, the Academic Arab College for Education, and Portland State University. He writes poetry in the local dialect. Born in the Palestinian village of Iqrit in 1944, he has lived in Rama since 1948.
ADINA HOFFMAN is the author of House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood(Steerforth/Broadway Books) and a life and times of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, forthcoming from Yale University Press. One of the founders and editors of Ibis Editions, she has written essays and literary criticism for the Nation, the TLS, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post,Raritan, and the BBC.