Poetry Fridays: Naomi Shihab Nye

Posted on by Dodge

Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems are known for their cherishing of everyday objects and acts. She has said that writing poetry requires giving attention to the world. But what is a poet to do in a time of war, when giving such attention requires confronting horrors?

A poet could avoid the dilemma by taking the position that poetry shouldn’t be “political.” But Nye’s poems are attempts to stay connected to the world and to others. She refuses to abandon the attempt despite the violence and injustice she must therefore bear witness to. It is almost as if she discovers how we are connected through the act of bearing witness. Perhaps for Nye poetry itself is our humanity’s survival mechanism.

Nye has also said the courage she most admires is that of people who keep giving attention to the simple acts of everyday life—talking over coffee, getting kids ready for school, sweeping the front porch stoop—while there is chaos and danger all around them.

The simple creative act of writing a poem in the midst of destructive forces also requires courage. It is easy in the face of the last century of human history to proclaim that poetry changes nothing, that it never stopped a war, never halted any atrocity, and therefore does not matter. But the same charge could be levied against music, religion, philosophy, psychology, science, human reason and love.

Love requires that we give our attention to another, however difficult it may sometimes be. We must love them, with all their human flaws and foibles, and not some idealized, false image. Nye reminds us that loving the world, and one’s own country, requires the same quality of attention.

“Letters My Prez Is Not Sending” and “Ted Kooser Is My President” can be found in Naomi Shihab Nye’s newest collection, Honeybee. Visit the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival Poet Pages for a biography of Naomi Shihab Nye.

Be sure to return for upcoming Poetry Fridays, when we will feature many poets from past Dodge Poetry Festivals in the weeks ahead, including Sharon Olds, Linda Pastan, C. D. Wright and others.

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