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This interview with poet Naomi Shihab Nye explores how her poems are informed by an inquisitive, child-like spirit and an ever-watchful eye of a mother. Such 'vital attitude' uniquely enables her to write poetry for all ages. It has also propelled her to travel across the United States and five continents, teaching the craft of poetry, and inviting audiences to experience how poems possess the power to connect people, to illuminate the mysteries of things, and to avail us of moments for self-restoration. Introduction I first got acquainted with Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry in the mid 1980s when I was selecting poems with Gregory Orfalea for what would become Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry. (1) I was immediately taken by the beauty of the poems, by the direct, almost artless language, fresh images, and deep immersion in the philosophy of everyday life--"impure poetry," advocated by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Both Orfalea and I agreed that she was going to occupy a large space in the anthology. Since then, Nye--who is also a folksinger--has become a prominent poet in America, invited to read at, among other places, the White House during Bill Clinton's presidency and the Library of Congress. Her books won coveted prizes--including in 1982 the National Poetry Series selection--and many notable and best book citations from the American Library Association. More recently, her anthology 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2005) was a National Book Award finalist. She has won the Jane Addams Children's Book Award twice and the Pushcart Prize four times. Nye is the daughter of an American mother and a Palestinian father, a journalist who immigrated to the United States a short while after the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) in 1948. Although she lived all her life in the US, Palestine has been one of the major, nourishing arteries of her creativity. Perhaps I would not be off the mark to say that the Palestinian plight is constitutive of the poet's sensibility: empathy with the vulnerable, aversion to loss, and abhorrence of aggression and violence. Nye published numerous poetry collections, anthologies, and occasional fiction. Her poems are plentiful in quantity and encompassing in scope. It is as if every object, person, and organism she comes across can be molded into a line, a stanza, and, if lucky, a whole poem. What makes for this opulence? I do not claim to know. The easiest thing to say is that it is a natural gift. And gifted, she is. But there must be something else besides the gift. That something might be found in what the Mexican poet Octavio Paz termed the "vital attitude" of the poet. Nye seems constantly astonished by the mystery of things, fleeting events, or flashes of memory: "Sometimes objects stun me/I touch them carefully/saying, tell what you know." (2) And they have much to divulge: "A man leaves the world/and the streets he lived on/grow a little shorter." (3) And: "The train whistle still wails its ancient sound/but...
Source Citation (MLA 8 th Edition)
Elmusa, Sharif S. "Vital attitude of the poet: interview with Naomi Shihab Nye." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 27, 2007, p. 107+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 22 Jan. 2019.
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