Naomi Shihab-Nye Sept 13, 2008 13:21:01 GMT 2
Post by moira on Sept 13, 2008 13:21:01 GMT 2
This contribution courtesy of Joyce Nower. It is an extract from a much longer essay entitled, Naomi Shihab-Nye's Political Poetry published in her column “Intersections” in The Alsop Review. It can be read in full here:
Naomi Shihab-Nye is a poet whose political lyrics arise naturally from her life as an American of Palestinian background. Her imagery converts what we read in the newspapers about this "new" part of the world - American newspapers and readers tend to be parochial - into poetry. Her political poetry, of course, comes from the same source as her more personal poems, and thus they don't sound formulaic or didactic: her political poems are personal.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Shihab-Nye moved with her family (her father is Palestinian) to Jerusalem at age 14 where she attended high school for a year. After returning to the U.S. her family settled in San Antonio, Texas. She currently lives there with her photographer husband and a son. Shihab-Nye has published prize-winning poetry anthologies for children, as well as essays, and several volumes of her own poetry, the latest of which, Fuel (BOA Editions, 1998), is the source of the poems discussed here. Her awards include Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Award for Social Justice, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1997-1998. She has also traveled to the Middle East and Asia for the United States Information Agency as a goodwill ambassador.
"The Small Vases From Hebron" takes us across the world to Hebron, Israel, and the disaster of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as experienced by children. It illustrates the best in the unpretentious political lyric because it springs from real people and things, and yet makes the commonplace strange and the strange tragic. We enter a classroom where Palestinian school girls are bent over their copy books. Their fragile selves are alluded to in the small shapely vase in the center of the table holding a sprig of flowers " which could have lived invisibly/ in loose soil beside the road."
Tip their mouths open to the sky.
the deep green with fluted handle,
pitcher the size of two thumbs,
tiny lip and graceful waist.
Here we place the smallest flower
which could have lived invisibly
in loose soil beside the road,
sprig of succulent rosemary,
They grow deeper in the center of the table.
Here we entrust the small life,
thread, fragment, breath.
And it bends. It waits all day.
As the bread cools and the children
open their gray copybooks
to shape the letter that looks like
a chimney rising out of a house.
Counterpointed to this picture of gentleness and industry - writing the small letters carefully - is the image of the big letters of the headlines - "And what do the headlines say?"- telling about the death of the "men and boys, praying when they died,/" who "fall out of their skins," "the whole alphabet of living" destroyed. (Women and men do not study or pray together in many parts of the world.) And what do the headlines say?
Nothing of the smaller petal
perfectly arranged inside the larger petal
or the way tinted glass filters light.
Men and boys, praying when they died,
fall out of their skins.
The whole alphabet of living,
heads and tails of words,
sentences, the way they said,
"Ya'Allah!" when astonished,
or "ya'ani" for "I mean" -
a crushed glass under the feet
But the child of Hebron sleeps
with the thud of her brothers falling
and the long sorrow of the color red.
Sudden and violent death mars life, especially young life. Beauty, delicacy, poignancy, and violence mingle. The poet characteristically metamorphoses this world of sharp contrasts into a comprehensible and poignant lament.
©Joyce Nower 2003