A taqsim is an improvisational Middle Eastern medley in which the musician moves between formal musical structure and free-flowing improvisation. In Taqsim Zaid Shlah writes within the formal structure of the lyric, but incorporates an innovative lyricism that agitates between his Iraqi and Canadian heritage: a history of music, food, war and love in a space as wide as the mountains and prairies of his native Alberta to as far away as the land between the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Shortlisted for Alberta Book Awards – Book Cover.
Taqsim is an insightful and complex book of poetry rooted in tradition and yet branching out into the new and unknown.
Shlah successfully weaves the stuff of history, familial memories, landscape, even cuisine into his poetry, performing a kind of word jazz that improvises on the blue notes of recent Iraqi history and the rich madrigals of his mother’s remembered speech. He riffs on his unique place in the world, the double vision afforded by one who grieves the narrative forced on his countrymen by Bush’s fundamentalist Christian warriors, and speculates on the demise of the Western empire, wondering where it is, and how it is a man in such an imperfect fragmented, post-Modern world is to make his stand; and how he can find solace in the family that carries such inestimable baggage.
Zaid Shlah’s poetry is as “multifoliate” as Yeats’ rose in its blending of contemporary voice with the ancient traditions of Iraqi and Arabic poetry and music. He is as much at home with the expansive Qasida tradition as with the work of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Derek Walcott. Richly lyrical and sensual (“the apple tree promenading its / red treasure, and twig-light just coming on”), his work brings us to a world that feels immediately familiar because so close to the mind’s famous eye.
Zaid Shlah’s Taqsim sings! This book’s gripping melancholy and unique resonance in the face of departure and loss is tough and exciting, it tells us to “leave the river, leave the grass, leave the gaze….the words rooting in your eyes, leave the sun…its lie – go and be something beautiful.” Shlah takes us to the radiance of Arab history, cultures, religions while “driving along Highway 22X, South of Calgary, having much less to do with [the] place, than with the story growing inside it.” These poems confess and connect us to the turbulent mystery of beauty and the quiet voice of the world.
This is a book of love poems by a man who knows the body can be as “sweet as dates”; it’s a book of philosophical poems by a man who knows how hard Heidegger can make you work and do nothing at the same time. This is a book of songs by a writer who wants you to hear his Arab words side by side with his English ones. And it is a book of political poems because this is a book by a man who knows that poets work with their hearts wide open, and in obscene times they must both protest obscenity and affirm the sacredness of human life with every bit of vehement love at their command.
About the Author
A native Calgarian, Zaid Shlah now resides in Walnut Creek, CA with his wife Randa. He obtained his MA in English from San Francisco State University. His poetry has appeared in literary magazines and journals in both Canada and the United States. Most recently he was awarded the American Academy of Poets Award. Zaid teaches in Walnut Creek, and lectures at New College of California.
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