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 (36): Effie Waller Smith, Bachelor Girl

She does not shirk, but does her work,
Amid the world’s fast hustling whirl,
And come what may, she’s here to stay,
The self-supporting “bachelor girl.”

– Effie Waller Smith in New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descen, Margaret Busby



Effie Waller Smith (1879 – 1960) was an African-American poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She was smart, independent, and ahead of her time. Her collections are:  Songs of the Month (1904), Rhymes From the Cumberland (1904), and Rosemary and Pansies (1909). Her work was featured in local newspapers and in some of the major publications of the day.

Effie Waller was born to former slaves in the rural mountain community of Chloe Creek in Pike County, Kentucky, on a farm located a few miles from Pikeville.Her father, Frank Waller, migrated to the East Kentucky mountains sometime after the Civil War, having spent most of his early life as a laborer on a Virginia plantation. Her mother, Sibbie Ratliff, was born and raised in East Kentucky and met Frank Waller in the early 1870s. Effie was the third of four children.

Frank Waller was a blacksmith and a real estate speculator. Chloe Creek, the area in which the Wallers lived, was unusual for the time. It was racially integrated. The Wallers were responsible, hard-working, and clean-living.  Frank and Sibbie, realizing the limits of their own educations, were determined that their children would receive a quality education and Effie and her siblings were educated at Kentucky Normal School for Colored Persons in Frankfort, the capitol of Kentucky. Effie subsequently taught in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Effie Waller Smith’s work is worth reading. Unfortunately, the charges on Amazon and Alibris are outrageous and her work is not included in The Gutenberg Project, where you’d be able to download it for free. You might try connecting with Steve at Scholar and Poet Books, EB and Scholar and Poet Books, Abe Books  to see what he has at what price. You can find a few of her poems around on the Internet. Her poems The “Bachelor Girl and The Cuban Cause are included in New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent, Margaret Busby. The “Bachelor Girl” is also posted on Literary Ladies HERE. I clipped Apple Sauce and Chicken Fried (posted below the video) from Poem Hunter.

With a nod to Wikipedia; Illustration: Public Domain

It you are reading this post from an email subscription, it’s likely you’ll have to link through to the site to view this video of Effie’s life and work.

Apple Sauce and Chicken Fried

You may talk about the knowledge
Which our farmers’ girls have gained
From cooking-schools and cook-books,
(Where all modern cooks are trained):
But I would rather know just how,
(Though vainly I have tried)
To prepare, as mother used to,
Apple sauce and chicken fried.

Our modern cooks know how to fix
Their dainty dishes rare,
But, friend, just let me tell you what!-
None of them can compare
With what my mother used to fix,
And for which I’ve often cried,
When I was but a little tot,-
Apple sauce and chicken fried.

Chicken a la Française,
And also fricassee,
Served with some new fangled sauce
Is plenty good for me,
Till I get to thinking of the home
Where once I used to ‘bide,
And where I used to eat,- um, my!
Apple sauce and chicken fried.

We always had it once a week,
Sometimes we had it twice;
And I have even known the time
When we have had it thrice.
Our good, yet jolly pastor,
During his circuit’s ride
With us once each week gave grateful thanks
For apple sauce and chicken fried.

Why, it seems like I can smell it,
And even taste it, too,
And see it with my natural eyes,
Though of course it can’t be true;
And it seems like I’m a child again,
Standing by mother’s side,
Pulling at her dress and asking
For apple sauce and chicken fried.

– Effie Waller Smith



ABOUT

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (#22): Jane Hirshfield, a human poet

Jane Hirshfeld (b. 1953), poet, essayist, translator

Jane Hirshfield (b. 1953), poet, essayist, translator

I always feel a slight dismay if I’m called a “Zen” poet. I am not. I am a human poet, that’s all.” Poet Jane Hirshfield on the Mystery of Existence, Spirituality & Health Magazine, Mar./Apr. 2013

When I think of Jane Hirshfield, I think first of her kindness to my friend, Bay Area poet, Ann Emerson (poet #9 in this series), who died a few years back and who received compassionate and generous guidance from Jane at a conference some years ago. It meant a lot to Ann and was a high-point in her six-year journey through cancer with poetry. Once having read Jane Hirshfield’s work, you can’t conceive of her as being anything but kind. The empathy expressed in her poetry is vast.

I admit to being one of those who also thinks of her as a Buddhist poet. Her poetry is Zen-like in its attentiveness, its inward-looking meditative quality, a quality of the ineffable given expression. Jane Hirshfield is a Zen practitioner, lived for several years at Tassajara and is ordained in Soto Zen.

Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer.” Jane Hirshfield in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

Another New York girl who eventually migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, Jane Hirshfield was famously graduated from Princeton University’s first class to include women. She is the author of eight collections including The Lives of the Heart (Harper Collins, 1997), which won the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award and Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems.

51LEMWRIG0L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

TREE

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books —

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

– ©Jane Hirshfield (from Given Sugar, Given Salt, Poems)

Originality requires the aptitude for exile.” The Question of Originality in Nine Gates

Her two collections of essays (must reads, no pedantry here) are Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (Harper Perennial, 1998) and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Knopf, 2015). She also translated a collection of poems by Japanese women with Mariko Aratani: The ink dark moon : love poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, women of the ancient Court of Japan (Vintage Classics). Her study The Heart of Haiku is available in Kindle Edition.

51oJEaBJOEL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_

Reading Jane Hishfield’s work is both a joy and education for your writerly self and a balm for your spirit. If by some incalculable misfortune you haven’t met her yet, seize this day.

© 2016, words, Jamie Dedes; photograph by A. Phillips and generously released into the public domain

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (20): Terri Muuss, Over Exposed

American She-Poet, Terri Muss

American She-Poet, Terri Muss

41GZoJ9eI3L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

SCARLET LETTER

In fifth grade
my father’s secrets
start to breed under my red
confirmation dress—
dig deep in the tunnel of my inner
ear, cling to sentry hairs
on the nape of my neck—

his secrets: black bodies,
glassy eyes, squeeze
beneath my fingernails—
quiet as eggs;
they spin a red thread
that cuts me inside
out.

Over Exposed, the memoir of Terri Muuss, is at once painful and triumphant. It is an examined life that exposes the family of her childhood, the obscenities imposed on her by her father, her numbing with alcohol and drugs and her journey in therapy. All of this and yet she arrives victorious and accomplished with a healthy marriage, healthy sons and a multifaceted career, elements of which reach a hand out to those in trauma.

This is the story of how a child survived and became a woman who found herself and a writer who found her voice. The experiences of a lifetime form a collection of poems and prose vignettes that bespeak the possibilities of redemption and hold out hope and affirmation to those others whose childhoods have left them wounded. I recommend this book to everyone but, most especially, to those who have a history like Terri’s.

Lately, I feel a bull’s eye on me: on the street, the A train, in the fruit market. Men infect me with words, with smiles. Eyes snatch at breasts, tongues pin me to subway walls, mouths like a cold speculum pry open my inner ear. Their words pound, pound me, a worn head of drum. Voices divide and conquer, dividing me from myself—

Emotionally it was not the easiest book to read. I often found myself in tears.It is rewarding though, not only because its subject remains unbeaten but because the writing, pacing and organization have you moving through the pages anxious to gobble up each poem, each story, every nuance. Terri’s switches from child-voice to adult are smooth, her imagery clear and moving, her poetry well-crafted.

13550802017232

There are two videos in this post. If you are reading this from an email, you will have to click to this site to view the videos.

INTERVIEW

JAMIE: Am I right that your first love was acting? If so, how did you transition – or what inspired – the addition of poetry to your artistic repertoire?

TERRI: Yes, acting, theatre and directing have always been my first loves. I came to acting quite young and naturally. It will always be a huge part of who I am and how I see art in a larger sense. Much of my poetry is born out of a theatricality I possess from being onstage these many years.

That being said, poetry was always sort of waiting in the wings for me. When I was in 10th grade, my best friend Leslie was a beautiful person and poet who I admired greatly. I spent long days at her house after school as I had no inclination to go home to my own dysfunctional house. There, she read and wrote poetry in front of me and it certainly inspired me to use it as an avenue for expression. Later, during senior year, I had a teacher hand me a packet of poems by e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes that she thought I would enjoy. That packet sent me on a journey of reading as many poets as I could. Still, poetry was off to the side while theater took center stage.

It really wasn’t until I was faced with the trauma of my past and of putting myself together that writing became both a therapeutic tool and an artistic passion. To better understand the trauma of being sexually abused as a child, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Mostly poetry but also monologues. At the end, what I’d constructed was a one-woman show skeleton that became Anatomy of a Doll. I performed the show throughout New York City and then the country at conferences and in theaters. Even then, I didn’t identify myself as a writer. I thought of myself as a performer who just happened to use my writing as a script. When Veronica Golos (my friend, mentor and a gorgeous poet who’s won numerous awards) began taking an interest in my work and started editing it in a poetry workshop she led out of her house on the Upper West Side, I started to see myself in the context of being a poet and poetry as a vocation. I think the form of poetry works well to showcase the dissociation that comes with abuse much more than prose does. Veronica is still my editor, having worked on both Anatomy of a Doll and my book, Over Exposed.

But the biggest transition from actor to writer happened during my marriage to poet Matt Pasca. He’s always seen me as a writer and, before I even claimed that identity for myself, always pushed me to go deeper, to write more, to get better, to submit my work. Through our marriage I have grown as a writer and came to see myself as a poet.

JAMIE: It is one thing to write about painful events in life and another to share them publicly. I think you are something of a hero for doing so. Where does this core of courage come from? What is the reaction from friends and relatives?

TERRI: This is a very interesting question that I get often–the question of the courage it takes to reveal my past. Many people have said they’ve seen me as courageous because I share the truth of my childhood sexual abuse, subsequent rapes, addiction and my recovery quite publicly. I have to acknowledge that this is the way it is perceived by other people. For me, however, it’s born out of necessity and so it’s never felt or seemed like courage. I have lived my life according to the 12-step saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” I know that what I keep inside me, what I feel shame about, what I try to hide, will destroy me from the inside. Giving a voice to my pain and shame and grief and mistakes gives me back my power, my joy and my life.

I’ve also grown to see that if I’m hiding the fact that I was sexually abused, I am sending myself and others the message that it was somehow my fault or that there’s something for me to be ashamed of. I’ve come to understand that what happened to me was not anything that I should be ashamed of. I was the victim so why should I be ashamed. I’ve also come to understand that the sexual abuse and the rape and the violence are a part of me but they are not the entirety of me.

Lastly, if I can help someone (with my story) to recover, let go of their shame, and move into survivorhood, then it is all more than worth it. As social worker and researcher Brene Brown states, “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” I choose let go of secrecy and to douse my shame with empathy, and empathy for the world must begin with me.

Friends and relatives have been overwhelmingly supportive, although for some of them, it took a period of adjustment and listening that gave birth to deeper understanding. I surround myself with people who are willing to be empathetic, courageous, vulnerable, and honest with both me and themselves. I consider myself very lucky to have a wide circle of supportive people in my life.

JAMIE: With two parents who are poets, do your children like poetry? Have they started writing themselves? Have they read your poetry?

TERRI: Great question! Yes! We have two boys, Rainer, 10, and Atticus, 7, and they have both had poems published. Rainer is by far the more prolific writer who really loves writing and poetry. Atticus is a drummer who dabbles in writing. They both had poems published in Skipping Stones, a journal for children ages 7-14. Rainer has also been published in Stone Soup, The Louisville Review (when he was 4), and the anthology, Holiday Word Gifts (JB Stillwater, 2011). Some of the things that Rainer writes take my breath away. It’s proof positive that as artists we are always trying to get back to that place where we were as children– where we can take risks and be playful and not worry about being judged.

JAMIE: You seem to have a gift for building a poetry community. What advice do you have for readers who might be trying to do the same?

TERRI: I’m a licensed social worker and the macro version of social work is community organizing. The first rule of community organizing is to listen to the community. Too often, people come into a community with their own expectations and demands. They try to foist onto a community what they want to see the community have. If you’re really trying to build community, through the arts or otherwise, ask questions and be willing to hear the answers. The community might not want the same things you want for them but if community is your ultimate goal, you need to let its members be your guide. Too often in the poetry community, as in other communities, people set up an event that mirrors the kind of poetry THEY want but disregard what the community is really is looking for. Finding the right venue, format and publicity are integral to success.

I would also add that it’s so important to have collaborators in any community venture. Without them, burnout is a real factor. You need to be able to share the workload, bounce ideas off of each other, and laugh together to elevate stress and keep it going!

JAMIE: You put together a lovely trailer for “Over Exposed.” How long did it take to put it together and what kind of tools did you use. Have you found it helpful in getting the word out.

TERRI: Dana Maddox did my trailer. She’s a brilliant filmmaker studying in LA right now. I came in contact with her through the mother of someone I directed in a show. We did the voiceover elements in the studio first and then she came to shoot the video at my house. It took about 10 hours of shooting and about two weeks of intense editing for her to put together the trailer. It’s not something that I could have done alone. Many people have that skill set but that’s not my wheelhouse. I can direct videos but editing is a different thing. She did an amazing job and I’m very proud of it. It certainly helps get the word out about my book. I think social media and online platforms always help books.

JAMIE:  So you have to my knowledge three books out: one on poetry as therapy, the recently published anthology, and “Over Exposed.” What’s next on the agenda?

TERRI: I have two books out currently. Over Exposed is my memoir, told in both poetry and prose. Grabbing the Apple is an anthology of New York women poets that I coedited with M.J. Tenerelli. The other group you mentioned here is the Poets of Well-being (Susan Dingle, Maggie Bloomfield, Nina Yavel and I). We are all social worker-writers who are in long term recovery (we have over 100 years of sobriety between us). I was the last member to join the group and so their chapbook does not include my work. It’s absolutely worth checking out. You can find the group on Facebook. As a group, we travel to conferences and venues to showcase how writing can be a therapeutic tool for helping others overcome addiction and abuse. We facilitated a workshop at AWP in Minnesota, at the Expressive Therapies Conference in NYC and were even invited to the 2016 NASW conference in DC. Susan runs a beautiful poetry event called “Poetry Street” out in Riverhead that is a fine example of great community organizing and art as a healing method.

*****

A tidbit on the light side and apropos upcoming elections in the U.S.: Atticus and Rainer Muuss on Ellen and at The White House with the First Lady.

©2016, portrait, poems, bookcover art and interview responses, Terri Muuss, All rights reserved