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  • Another Andalusian Alphabet:An Appreciation of Peter Cole
  • María Rosa Menocal

A is for Alphabet. Or Andalusianist, or Arabic, or Aleph, or Abu Ayyub Sulaiman Ibn Yahya Ibn Jabirul, which is the opening entry in Cole's own "Andalusian Alphabet", which itself serves as the unorthodox introduction to his volume of translations of Ibn Gabirol. Although I am an amateur at this, and Peter an adept, I offer this alphabet as a small tribute to his work.

B is for brave and for the brave new world into which Peter Cole has ventured, ahead of us. Peter the poet, the self-taught, bravely ventured into those poetic territories of Spain before it was Spain, territories long the precincts only of those with decades of formal training in tough languages and even tougher philologies. And he returned with the poetry.

C is for Carrión, and also Christian, the lands of those poorer cousins of the Andalusian Jews. The breadth of Peter's dream is such that they too are brought back to us, in their own splendor, and in their touching kinship to ourselves, their own mourning for Halevi and for Andalus - all those Ibn [End Page 211] Ezras and their laments! And maybe also their fears are like ours: "Tomorrow I'll write", is how Santob wrily hedges his bets, those of the Jew in old Castile in the fourteenth century - are they fears of belatedness?

D is for David, and that breathtaking conceit from Peter's first volume that brought us the Nagid in all his splendor: "I am the David of my age". This the apt signature line of that first of the great ones, Samuel the Granadan and, beyond him, of the Andalusians and, beyond them, of their late twentieth-century avatar - for is that not what a great translator is but an avatar? That voice in our own language that makes that "I am the David of my age" ring true? Perhaps A should have been for avatar. And of course D also needs to summon up Darwish and his great gift of a line, that poetic line that has given Peter his perfect title, The Dream of the Poem, so there we have yet another D, for Dream.

E is for Europe, or perhaps European letters, or maybe more simply and accurately English and its expansive literary traditions, including the American one. This, now, the poetic universe whose door Peter has opened, where we can now glimpse the Nagid, and Santob, and many dozens of others in between, in their Cole avatars. Definitely, A should have been for avatar.

F is pretty obviously, I would say, for faith, or is it Faith? What could be more at the heart of what we all struggle with, when we live and work with this jumble of multiple confessions that crowded into the Iberian peninsula during those centuries? An age of jostling and elbowing that made it into something that is likely to remind us of one of those great souks of Morocco? Faith that could at once be the clear division between one man and the next, and at the same time the intimate tie between them. Faith was the bedrock of the new Hebrew poetry of the Jews, and yet . . . and yet how lovely and how blessed that it was also a faith profligate enough to revel in the poetry of those other faiths, and most of all that faith professed by Ibn 'Arabi, the religion of love: "Wherever its caravan turns along the way, that is the belief, the faith I keep".

G is for the generosity that makes the poetry of Ibn 'Arabi too a part of the language and imagination of the English-speaking world now, thanks [End Page 212] to Peter Cole the publisher. He and Adina Hoffman have long had another labor of love, a jewel-box press called Ibis Editions. G is also then for gifts: these other books they publish and that also cultivate avatars, books bearing gifts of love and faith in the Levant, which is itself sometimes a dream, and that dream often has Andalus in its heart. Not least among them Stations of Desire...