I have an ever increasing respect for poets. The skill and confidence to reduce an emotion, a story or an entire history to a few sparse stanzas is breathtaking. I recently re-read Ruth Padel’s simmering collection Learning to Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, which takes in Middle Eastern politics, culture and religion with a deftness I aspire to.
From generously crammed paragraphs to glimmering non-rhyming couplets, the poems examine the richness of beliefs in conflict with uncommon grace and intensity.
In the title poem, we’re walked through the steps of making a traditional musical instrument, and in Padel’s clear, thoughtful words, the act becomes unexpectedly sensual: “He damascened a rose of horn/with arabesques/as lustrous as under-leaves of olive”.