This Sunday I have a humorous, poignant poem by Naomi Shihab Nye to share.
Nye’s found poem, which is comprised entirely of statements made by her young son, is a reminder that we’re surrounded by comic, inventive language on a daily basis, but that we often overlook the poetry in these everyday encounters.
In her introduction, Nye quotes the poet William Stafford. When people asked him, “When did you become a poet?” he would respond, “That’s not the right question…The question is, ‘When did you stop being a poet?'”
I laughed out loud more than once while watching Naomi Shihab Nye read “One Boy Told Me.” One of the best things about having a blog like Gwarlingo is that I can pass Nye’s hilarious poem along to you.
Enjoy your Sunday.
About Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her B.A. in English and world religions from Trinity University.
Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.”
Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, including You and Yours (2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, as well as Fuel (1998), Red Suitcase (1994), and Hugging the Jukebox (1982).
After the World Trade Center bombing in 2001, Nye became an active voice for Arab-Americans, speaking out against both terrorism and prejudice. The lack of understanding between Americans and Arabs led her to collect poems she had written which dealt with the Middle East and her experiences as an Arab-American into one volume. 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2002) received praise for the timeliness of its message.
Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit. About her work, the poet William Stafford has said, “her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life.”
In addition to her poetry collections, Nye has produced fiction for children, poetry and song recordings, and poetry translations. As a children’s writer, Nye is acclaimed for her sensitivity and cultural awareness. Her book Sitti’s Secrets (1994) concerns an Arab-American child’s relationship with her sitti—Arabic for grandmother—who lives in a Palestinian village. Hazel Rochman, in Booklist, praised Nye for capturing the emotions of the “child who longs for a distant grandparent.” In 1997 Nye published Habibi, her first young-adult novel. Readers meet Liyana Abboud, an Arab-American teen who moves with her family to her Palestinian father’s native country during the 1970s, only to discover that the violence in Jerusalem has not yet abated.
Nye has received awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Carity Randall Prize, the International Poetry Forum, as well as four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. In 1988 she received The Academy of American Poets’ Lavan Award, selected by W. S. Merwin.
Her poems and short stories have appeared in various journals and reviews throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East. She has traveled to the Middle East and Asia for the United States Information Agency three times, promoting international goodwill through the arts.
She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2010.
Nye told Contemporary Authors: “I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.”
This video is part of the Poetry Everywhere project airing on public television. Produced by David Grubin Productions and WGBH Boston, in association with the Poetry Foundation. Filmed at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. “One Boy Told Me” © Naomi Shihab Nye. Biography courtesy The Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.