Introductions: Naomi Shihab Nye
September 25, 2019
By Rebecca Hoogs, SAL Associate Director
It is an honor to welcome Naomi Shihab Nye back to the Poetry Series, ten years after her last appearance. In the last year alone, she added a new title to her bio: the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation, and a new title to her shelf, and ours: The Tiny Journalist.
The book is inspired in part by Janna Tamimi, known as “the youngest journalist in Palestine” for her smartphone videos of anti-occupation protests. It blends poems from Janna’s perspective with Nye’s own experiences living in Palestine as a teenager, with Nye’s journalist father’s experience as a refugee, with that of “protesters, students, street sweepers, carpet weavers, and others seeking to endure the unendurable.” In doing so, she “demonstrates poetry’s ability to vividly portray the lives behind the headlines” (Publishers Weekly).
These poems give us the body-lines, the heart-lines, the life-lines—all the lines that connect the dots, that are, in fact, real people and not numbers. Not dots at all. These poems connect us—or reconnect us. They use the ordinary objects of our every day as portals to other places, to other people, to earlier or other versions of ourselves. In lines of poetry, Nye gives us lives. “On every page,” wrote Shelf Awareness, “Shihab Nye’s insistent call is the same: people, all people, deserve to live safe and healthy lives, free from fear and violence. She mourns, rages, takes politicians to task, but always lands on the side of compassion… Her poems are a clarion call to readers to see the violence in Palestine and elsewhere, and to do what they can to work for peace.”
It makes sense that she would be named our Young People’s Poet Laureate; her work brims for and with youth like Janna who are changing our world, youth like those are leading the climate march tomorrow, youth who are full of curiosity, and idealism. Youth who, as Nye writes, “Cry, then they move on to the next joy.” Yet Nye’s work encourages each of us to also be these youth. To see poetry everywhere. To live inside a poem. She is perhaps not only a Poet Laureate for young people, then, but for all of us who wish to ask, “But, why?” People who wish to lead with joy. Who wish to access the child-self that lives inside of us who is willing to write lines—and to cross lines.
For her entire career, which started at age seven, much like Janna’s, Naomi Shihab Nye has been an advocate for justice, an advocate for art as a way towards justice. From Ferguson to Palestine to San Antonio, we’re lucky that her life and lines and wanderings have brought her to us on the page and in person. How lucky we are to get to be children together tonight.
The poet Naomi Shihab Nye gave a reading at Town Hall Seattle on September 19, 2019, as part of our 2019/20 Poetry Series; SAL Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs gave this introduction.