I might have already told this story, but one of my first memories of poetry as an adult has to do with Naomi Shihab Nye. I was at the International Reading Association Convention (now the International Literacy Association) in San Antonio, in the late 1990's. My dear friend, Lisa Lenz Bianchi, and I were walking through a little shopping area close to the Riverwalk. Lisa, a poet and lover of poetry, noticed that Naomi Shihab Nye was doing a reading that night, and so we went. Nye read poetry while her little boy, probably about four, played with a truck on the floor in the back of the room. And it was magical.
I'm always excited, then, when I find a new book by Naomi Shihab Nye. I grabbed an ARC of her latest book, VOICES IN THE AIR, at ALA, when it came to Denver in February. And like pretty much everything she has ever written, I love it. I say that with a caution, though. Naomi Shihab Nye regularly writes poetry (A MAZE ME), and picture books (SITTI's SECRET), and novels (THE TURTLE OF OMAN) for children and young adults; she's written more than thirty books. If you pick up VOICES IN THE AIR, expecting to add it to your classroom library, especially if you are an elementary teacher, you might be disappointed. There are poems in the book that I would use with children, but it's more a book for older students and also for adults.
VOICES IN THE AIR celebrates many of the people who have shaped Nye as a poet and as a human being. Each page (or most pages) includes a dedication or a quote to that person, followed by an original poem; the review of the book says that there are over one hundred, but I didn't count. The range is wide- historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison, poets (Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Longfellow) and people who live in Nye's world (her father, neighbors, etc). In the back of the book, there is a quick biography of each person. Nye's poems (and the introduction to the book, which is also beautiful) remind me to live well, to slow down, to be still, to pay attention and to listen, to others and to my own heart. A really important reminder during this hard and often awful time.
PLEASE SIT DOWN
for Vera B. Williams
Your mama will have a chair
Everyone will have a chair
There are enough chairs
In the dreams we share
desks with smooth wooden tops
name cards in calligraphy
cubbyholes under seats
what else might people be given?
When everyone sits calmly in chairs
Numbers march across pages
Letters line up friendly-fashion
Hopefully we might like those letters enough
to shape them into stories
Where have you been before here?
Who did you see?
A woman of sturdy conviction
clear, clear focus
making history with her hands
A garden, a muffin, a world
Greedy men say "More!" to war
Sitting together telling stories
could change that but who will take the time?
All our lives to speak of simple things
turns out to be
Naomi Shihab Nye
CONVERSATION WITH GRACE PALEY
FLIGHT OF THE MIND WRITING WORKSHOP, OREGON
It's been a spectacular day, Grace!
and she cleared her throat.
Not that great, she said--
but pretty good.
Didn't you like our long drive into the woods
to see trees with rounded buttocks?
They were okay.
Our splendid dinner?
Grace, guide us. What is politics to you?
You are such a brave activist.
How do we live?
What do we do?
Politics is simply the way human beings
treat one another on the earth.
Naomi Shihab Nye
MOMENT OF RELIEF
News loves to be bad.
It's a bad habit.
Think of all the good things people do---
Right now, how many people in our own town
are stirring soup to give away...
Bad news still gets more attention.
trash talk, insult...
at some point you make a decision.
Malala, smiling warmly, speaks of dreams,
girls going to school,
The newscasters stick her in
after lots of badness.
They know we can only take so much.
Naomi Shihab Nye
POETRY FRIDAY is at MISS RUMPHIUS EFFECT
Have a peaceful week…