Naomi Shihab Nye uncovers poetic "appetite for language"

Christina Oddo
Assistant Arts & Life Editor

In all the images that surround us, there is poetic possibility. For writer and poet Naomi Shihab Nye, she finds inspiration in both the seen and unseen.

Nye spoke of the apparent appetite for language across the globe, as well as the poetic possibility embedded in the images that surround us, in her Q&A session on Sept. 4 in the Willard Smith Library.

Nye spent 37 years traveling around the world and has written and/or edited more than 30 volumes.

Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother, Nye additionally held a poetry reading in Bucknell Hall about her family history as well as how her memories and knowledge of this history shape her work and are translated through her poetry.

Nye’s work is guided by a sort of hope, as she described during the session, in a way that she is able to abandon some work and move on, viewing half-baked texts as part of a bigger project. She believes the text is ultimately working to find us.

“Perhaps more than anything I remembered the necessity of remaining hopeful,” Professor Shara McCallum said. “Ms. Nye is one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever encountered.  I think for anyone who attended her events yesterday, some of the radiance of being in her presence is still with us.”

As Nye traveled through Pennsylvania on her way to the University, she wrote down road signs that, to her, seemed unordinary. Lines and names, she explained, are full of poetic possibility and are given to us in our surroundings. Details fill many places and create a rich environment. Nye finds these opportunities to soak in this richness and later display it through language to be imperative.

Nye, in her attempt to encompass and answer the question, in poetry, described poetry as a voice through which meaning is transported with care. We should see our lives as stories, and that the narrative has a sort of preciousness linked to it. In fact, life is a continuous text, and we should work to find and evoke images.

For Nye, writing specific lines feels like a confession, a relief from pressure. Also, a poet need not know exactly where a piece is going because language is a process of speaking, creating and solving.

Nye’s poetry reading in Bucknell Hall was well attended. Nye spoke of her experience of taking a tour of the Poetry Path and how she enjoyed being featured as part of this “generous gift to the pedestrians” of Lewisburg. Nye was humble and grateful, repeating several times that speaking at the University was not an opportunity she would take for granted.

“Ms. Nye’s humour, honesty, and warmth in her delivery–as well as her poems themselves, which carry such wisdom–together made for an extraordinary reading,” Professor Shara McCallum said.

Throughout her talk, Nye spoke of her son, about mistakes, about her father and more. Nye also recited a brand new poem and poems regarding situations in which people are suffering more than you are.

Moreover, Nye emphasized the importance of note keeping. This importance was made apparent through her final story, a prose-based poem full of detail and humor.

“I really liked Nye’s advice about taking notes throughout your life,” Jennifer Fish ’14 said. “Notes would not only bring clarity to numerous old memories, but she suggested that memories make great triggering subjects for poems.”


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