Friday, July 6, 2018


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.

      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?
Missiles faster

All our lives to speak of simple things
turns out to be
most complicated

Naomi Shihab Nye


It's been a spectacular day, Grace!
We gushed
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


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.
Which world?
Malala, smiling warmly, speaks of dreams,
girls going to school,
mutual respect.
The newscasters stick her in
after lots of badness.
They know we can only take so much.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Have a peaceful week…


Julieanne said...

How wonderful to have heard Shihab Nye in person, with her little boy playing close by. I could listen to her voice all day long. Thank you for the poetry and the recommendation. These three poems together give thought and direction. I walk away from your post ready to order the book and collect some ideas about the good I've seen in my world.

Ramona said...

Loved the book, but like you I'm not sure that it's a book even for teens. I would love to share it with some of them to get their feedback. It's definitely a book for our time.

Mary Lee said...

Okay, I feel better admitting it -- because this book wasn't what I was expecting and what I wanted it to be, so I put it aside. Thanks to your review, I'll take another look. THANKS!

Kimberly Hutmacher said...

Definitely adding this one to my reading list. My family just had a discussion about the news- a string of terrible stories, followed at the end with one small bit to give us hope.

Tara said...

I loved this collection - but, as with Mary Lee, I came to it with some preconceptions, and was a bit disappointed at first on that count.

Linda B said...

I have this book, but so many others are coming before it. Thanks for sharing these poems, Carol. We all need to hear good words for today. I like "There are enough chairs". Of course, there are, don't understand why others do not agree. Please come by the store, will be there Thursday, lots of wonderful books for kids!

Tabatha said...

Like Linda, I liked "There are enough chairs." Also "Which world?" I am picking the one with more time spent with poetry and Malala!

Molly Hogan said...

Naomi Shihab Nye is one of my favorites and I was lucky enough to hear her speak last summer. She was delightful! These lines really speak to me:
"at some point you make a decision.
Which world?"

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

I can definitely see how Nye's life has been shaped by some of these experiences...thanks for sharing this book!

Kay said...

Ooohhhh...this looks like one I want to read. Nye is such an incredible poet. I would love to hear her give a reading one day.