CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (#37): 2019–2021 Young People’s Poet Laureate, Palestinian-American, Naomi Shihab Nye; “When did you stop being a poet?”

this photograph is of International Poet Naomi Shihab Nye at a book signing courtesy of Micahd under CC BY-SA 3.0

“Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer on its own.” Naomi Shihab Nye



Naomi Shihab Nye (نعومي شهاب ناي‎) (b. 1952) is a poet, novelist, essayist, anthologist and peacemaker. He father was a Palestinian; her mother, an American. She started writing when she was six-years-old. The breadth of her published work encompasses poetry, young-adult fiction, picture books, essays and novels. She calls herself a “wandering poet” but refers to San Antonio, Texas as home.


Habibi [recommended and not just for teens] is her 1997 young adult novel. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of fourteen-year-old Liyana Abboud and her family, her Arab father, American mother, and brother Rafik, who move from their home in St. Louis to Mr. Abboud’s native home of Palestine in the 1970s. It was named an American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults, an ALA Notable Book, a New York Public Library Book for the Teens and a Texas Institute of Letters Best Book for Young Readers. It received the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, given annually to a children’s book that advances the causes of peace and social equality. Habibi deals with a range of themes including change, family values, war and peace, and love. “Habibi” is the Arabic for ‘beloved’.


“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, / you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”

Naomi says a visit to her grandmother in the West Bank village of Sinjil was a life-changing experience.

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt weakened in a broth.
What you held in your hand,
What you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before your learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
Like a shadow or a friend.

© Naomi Shahib Nye from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

You can listen to Naomi’s interview with Krista Tippet – including some background on this particular poem – HERE.


This year Naomi was named The Young People’s Poet Laureate, the first Arab-American to hold the position. The award is from the Poetry Foundation, among other things the publisher of Poetry. This is a $25,000 prize that celebrates a living writer in recognition of their devotion to writing exceptional poetry for young readers. The two-year-term laureateship promotes poetry to children and their families, teachers, and librarians.

Naomi Shihab Nye will serve from 2019 to 2021, aiming to bring poetry to geographically underserved, or rural communities through readings underwritten by the Poetry Foundation. In addition, every month during her tenure, which begins in August, she will recommend a new poetry book for young readers.

Nye is acclaimed as a children’s writer for her sensitivity and cultural awareness, such as in her book 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, published just after September 11, 2001, which invites readers to reflect and explore life as an Arab-American. Also acclaimed for her work for adults, Nye’s writing moves seamlessly between ages in a way that is accessible, warm, and sophisticated even for the youngest of readers. Her poetry collections for young adults include Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners and A Maze Me: Poems for Girls.

Naomi Nye is currently a professor of creative writing at Texas State University. She joins notable past winners of this award including Jack Prelutsky, Jacqueline Woodson, and most recently Margarita Engle.

If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll like have to link through to the site to enjoy the delights of this video reading by Naomi of her poem, “When did you stop being a poet?”

This is charming and serves to remind us of how good we are at poetry when we are spontaneous and open to fancy, when we don’t try to write and edit at the same time. It reminds us too that like children, poets never stop being surprised by life. I love that Naomi’s little boy said, “Just think, no one has ever seen inside this peanut before.” Such is the wonder of childlike sensibility and vision.

Naomi’s Amazon Page U.S. is HERE.
Naomi’s Amazon Page U.K. is HERE.

This post compiled courtesy of Naomi Shihab Nye (which is not to imply I got permission – I hope sharing her work here falls under Fair Use), Wikipedia, Amazon, and Poetry Foundation.


ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* Three poems, Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
“Over His Morning Coffee,” Front Porch Review

A homebound writer, poet, and former columnist and associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, an info hub for poets and writers and am the founding/managing editor of The BeZine.


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton



 

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (19): Silva Zanoyan Merjanian, Borrowed Sugar Borrowed Time – from war-torn Lebanon to peace in California

Armenian/Lebanese American poet, Silva Zanoyan Merjanian

Silva Zanoyan Merjanian

Silva Zanoyan Merjanian is an Armenian ethnic who was born in Lebanon. She escaped the civil war there and lived for a time in Geneva, ultimately settling to build a family life in California. Silva has two published collections. Most recently Rumor (Cold Water Press, 2015), which received the Best Book Award from NABE in the 2015. Three poems from Rumor were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Silva’s first collection is Uncoil a Night (CreateSpace, 2013).

73f533_9cc020b992f94d93a6acdd49383341f5

Falling

In rind of wishes sticky on lips
and sermons’ echo on facepsalms slipping
in envies squirted on spruce and cedar
whims twirling, spiraled, speckled
gossamer visions of friendships withered
in crevices of an upbeat mien
Your name hidden in prayer embers
I mend among buds of poems
flying on a trapeze
with no one at the other end

Rumor is a stunning tour de force of passionate, life-affirming poetry. Silva Merjanian evokes time and place with both grace and authority. Poetry is obviously a tool for her own healing and in that she brings us face to face with the human condition in all its complexity, beautiful and loving and devastating cruel, and she does so totally without pretension.

Mornings arriving
Me alone
Poems half written and done
Poems between toes and toast
‘Round Midnight and Monk
Nostalgia
Right reasons
Brave decisions
Thoughts that glow in the light
Just love
Always, in absence of rats and such
fresh sheets and I
between over and under

from Between the Sheets

She writes with immediacy of war:

bounce of gold crosses between breasts
colorful hijabs ’round others’ bare face
friendships seeded in borrowed sugar, borrowed time
she, unaware of borrowed wailers on their way
makes plans on a sunny balcony as she hangs
her blue jeans on a clothesline
moments before war drums ripple through crisp calm

from Borrowed Sugar Borrowed Time

INTERVIEW

JAMIE:  Silva, Rumor is a remarkable collection with many poems that stay with one. It’s also quite generous of you to donate proceeds to the Syrian-Amenian Relief Fund (SARF). How are sales going and how is the fundraising?

SILVA: Thank you Jamie. I did not have an event or a formal fundraising with Rumor. The sales were a result of readings, speeches, word of mouth and some ads in newspapers and on Facebook. In July there will be an ad for it in Poets & Writers and it will also be included in five book fairs this summer.

My publisher, Dave Boles of Cold River Press, will release the e-book version soon. He is kind enough to donate all proceeds from the e-book also to the SARF. So with all these developments I expect a boost in sales.

JAMIE: When did you fall in love with poetry? When did you realize you are a poet?

SILVA: I am a late bloomer. I started writing in 2011 and my first book was released in 2013. Even though we grew up with the poetry of Shakespeare, Keats, etc.. and many Armenian poets, the thought of writing poetry hadn’t occurred to me. My education is in Business Administration not Fine Art. It was almost like catching the bug of poetry, very unexpected, once I started writing I couldn’t stop. I didn’t write to be published at first, it was just for the pleasure of it, later when I saw friends publishing books, the idea came to me to publish and make it count for something by donating the proceeds.

JAMIE: What are the reactions to your work that surprise you most?

SILVA: I didn’t expect the level of appreciation for my poetry that I received. Especially from those who themselves write and/or are well read in poetry. I have to thank the Irish first for this recognition. They have such talented poets and they recognized my potential first.

I also didn’t expect the difficulty to be accepted as a writer in the Armenian community. It was almost like they waited for me to be respected in the foreign circles before they’d acknowledge me, instead of reading my work and appreciating it themselves. I am disappointed in that respect.

JAMIE: Tell us something about your travels: How did your family arrive in Lebanon and why did they move from there. How did you end up in the U.S.?

SILVA:  My grandparents had to flee their homes twice, trying to survive the Armenian Genocide. If you are familiar with the book The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Austrian -Bohemian writer Franz Werfel, first published in German in 1933, it is the story of my grandparents. The French helped the population of seven villages escape and relocate as refugees in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. So my grandparents did live under refugee tents for a whole year. Now the area is a buzzing town with three churches and schools and commerce.

I left Lebanon after experiencing eight years of the civil war*. Geneva was the city I healed from the war scars. Later I settled in California to raise my sons with my husband.

JAMIE: What do you think most Westerners don’t understand about the Middle East? What do you know and understand that you would like everyone to know?

SILVA: What most don’t understand about Lebanon, and to a degree parts of the Middle East, is that the vast majority of the people are just the nicest fun loving, peace loving, hard working families. They want for their children everything an American family wants. The number of innocent people who are collateral damage to the events in that part of the world is just heartbreaking.

JAMIE: I understand that your brother is a novelist. Does your family have a history of poets and writers?

SILVA: My brother has two volumes of poetry in Armenian. He is writing his third novel. I am not aware of anyone else in my family who has published books, except a volume of translations by my father.

JAMIE:  You have two well-received collections completed. Where to now?

SILVA:  That’s a question I’ve been asking myself. I think I will keep writing and hope a third book will be in the future for me.

* Lebanese Civil War – 1975-1990

© 2016, portrait, poems, bookcover art and responses to questions, Silva Merjanian, All rights reserved

Celebrating American She-Poets (15): Sylvia Plath, Listen to the Poet Reading “Ariel”

Sylvia_plath

I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited. Sylvia Plath, “The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

What a find! What a treat to hear some of “Ariel” read by its author.  So this being the soundbite world of the blogosphere, I simply give you a short bio for those who need one and leave you to the poet herself. Enjoy!

“Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge, before receiving acclaim as a poet and writer. She was married to fellow poet Ted Hughes from 1956 until they separated in September of 1962. They lived together in the United States and then the United Kingdom, and had two children, Frieda and Nicholas. Plath was clinically depressed for most of her adult life. She died by suicide in 1963.

“Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems, and Ariel. She also wrote The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death. In 1982, she won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems.’ Wikipedia

“If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.” Sylvia Plath, “The Bell Jar”