Arab-American Poet Naomi Shihab Nye Reads at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School

Photo Credit: Chehalis Hegner

Photo Credit: Chehalis Hegner

Naomi Shihab Nye writes poetry that is marinated in personal experiences and translated through people, ideas, cultures, and beliefs. Nye is unafraid of going to another place in her poetry, somewhere universal, completely related to her Arab heritage, and also the world she grew up in — the United States. Nye, is an internationally acclaimed author and editor of over 20 volumes of poetry and fiction, who thinks, “personal experiences, though very personal and momentary to a particular person, can also connect to a larger crowd. They bind us.”

NSN posterNye was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. When Nye is asked what experiences, ideas, or people influence her current work, she replies, “I think personal experience is our access point to the universe. And I guess that is a reason I have a really hard time understanding war. We all know what it’s like to want to take care of ourselves and the people we love and we all want to see each other be safe and protected.” Nye, this year’s Robert Creeley Award winner, reads March 6, 7:30 PM, at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School auditorium, 36 Charter Road, Acton, Massachusetts. The Creeley Award requires the winner to select $500 worth of plated books for the library, so, by this act, other poets become rooted in the community. It involves the Creeley Foundation, the library, the public schools and the citizens.

Nye has won four Pushcart Prizes and was chosen a peace hero by PeaceByPeace.net. During her teen-age years, Nye lived in Ramallah in Jordan and in the Old City in Jerusalem and now calls San Antonio her home. Nye further explains her eye-opening experience, changing her perspectives about life, and the influence it had on her poetry. “My grandmother always believed in peace and she always believed that Arab and Jewish people were brothers and sisters. So seeing all of these contrasts between how the world sees a region and its people, versus how they really are, that was very life changing for me and for my poetry. I think poetry cares a lot about wiser solutions and the tenderness of the universe and the fact that everything is temporary and precious.”

Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit. “I think we all have personal experiences and we are all sensitive to those experiences in different ways and at different intensities, but we should remember that our experiences are the reason we become part of this human race.”

Fall of 2011 saw the publication of two new books, There Is No Long Distance Now (a collection of very short stories) and Transfer (poems). Nye’s poetry is honest, like a nuance of what is in her own mind, compared with creative possibilities. Poet and co-founder of the Creeley Foundation, Robert Clawson, says, “In a time when there’s suspicion here about Middle-Eastern communities, about Islam and Shari’a, and demonstrable ignorance about the difference between Arabs, Muslims, Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and radical Islamists (terrorists who actually violate the Qur’an with violent jihad), Naomi’s writing acts as a bridge between Western and Middle-Eastern cultures in what she feels is the world community, the human community.”

Nye is asked if she is afraid people will get the wrong message, or miss the meaning she is trying to communicate through her poetry. “I don’t want my poems to be mystifying. I want there to be clarity; I want people to think “yes, I understand that” and make a connection with my words. I have never thought of poems as some type of riddle. Clarity and connected thinking is very important to me and I would hope that that transmits to a reader.” Nye is a serious humanist and a peace activist who, through her poetry about her Arabic and Muslim forebears brings us toward an understanding of the best aspects of her ethnic culture and, of course, the multitude of cultures represented in communities throughout our town, state, and country.

Open to the public, see and hear, Naomi Shihab Nye read her poetry 7:30 PM at Acton‐Boxborough Regional High School auditorium on March 6th.

How Palestinians Keep Warm

Choose one word and say it over

and over, till it builds a fire inside your mouth.

Adhafera, the one who holds out, Alphard, solitary one,

the stars were named by people like us.

Each night they line up on the long path between worlds.

They nod and blink, no right or wrong

in their yellow eyes. Dirah, little house,

unfold your walls and take us in.

My well went dry, my grandfather’s grapes

have stopped singing. I stir the coals,

my babies cry. How will I teach them

they belong to the stars?

They build forts of white stone and say, “This is mine.”

How will I teach them to love Mizar, veil, cloak,

to know that behind it an ancient man

is fanning a flame?

He stirs the dark wind of our breath.

He says the veil will rise

till they see us shining, spreading like embers

on the blessed hills.

Well, I made that up. I’m not so sure about Mizar.

But I know we need to keep warm here on earth

And when your shawl is as thin as mine is, you tell stories.

“How Palestinians Keep Warm” from Red Suitcase. 1994

The Permissions Company, Inc., BOA Editions, Ltd.

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