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21 March 2008

Women sit quietly with words - Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi_shihab_nye Sometimes it is hard to name our own truth, to speak it. And in those times, we turn to poets. As if they alone have captured the true function of art--to provide us metaphors that make deep truths of life bearable, knowable, speakable.

Walking with my friend Kichom once as we crossed campus to the first meeting of a class we would teach together, he ran straight into a plate glass window, like a bird hitting a sliding glass door, not realizing it was there. It startled us both, warped his glasses a bit, he hit it so hard. I turned to him and said the first thing that came to mind: "Everything is a metaphor, Kichom." We laughed a big, bent-over-double-at-the-waist laugh. "Yes, yes, I can see that," came his beautiful answer, which made us laugh even more.

Who are the holders of metaphor and of language that dips and swerves and brings us into focus and narrows our field of vision to a water drop on a leaf and then, in the next moment, takes us into the galaxies? None other than poets like this woman.

Naomi Shihab Nye speaks a truth that wraps all around me.

From an interview with Bill Moyers

NAOMI SHIHAB NYE: "If you place a fern under a stone, the next day it will be nearly invisible as if the stone has swallowed it. If you tuck the name of a loved on under your tongue too long, without speaking it it becomes blood, sigh, the little sucked in breath of air hiding everywhere beneath your words. No one sees the fuel that feeds you."

BILL MOYERS: "The fuel that feeds you." What is it?

NAOMI SHIHAB NYE: I think for many of us it's language in the sense that language can carry us to understanding, and connect us to things that matter in our lives. For those of us who trust poetry and the power of linkage that poetry gives us. It's a way of--sitting quietly with words and--letting us--them lead us somewhere.

BILL MOYERS: So "the fuel that feeds you" is the power of words?

NAOMI SHIHAB NYE: I think so. Those power of words, and a faith in the power of words. That words can give you something back if you trust them, and if you know that you're not trying to proclaim things all the time, but you're trying to discover things.

A little girl said to me, last year, "Poetry has been eating all my problems." And I said, "What do you mean by that?" And she said, "It just makes me feel better when I read it, or when I write it." And I think that's been true for many people in this country.

Let's let poetry eat all our problems. It's a strategy born out of hope. It can only succeed when we move past proclamation to discovery, curiosity, newness, metaphor. We must run into clear panes of glass more often in order to really see.

If the days are nouns, let's touch them. And perhaps, then, life really is a verb.

To Naomi Shihab Nye, my thanks for sitting quietly with words that resonate far beyond her life, right into the center of mine.


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I love the experience of starting out in one direction, or at least thinking I am as I write, and discovering only minutes later that the words had a whole different destination in mind. It is my pleasure to be along for the ride; lots of new places and perspectives to be seen when you are riding instead of driving.

Thanks for bringing us Naomi Shihab Nye, Patti!

Sitting quietly with words... The power of metaphor... YES! Discovery of poetry in recent years has been such a powerful door to personal insight and growth -- shifts in perspective through the play of words. Can't get enough now. May even have to try writing some... Thank you for sharing this interview, and introducing another poet I need to explore.

Patti, this is a wonderful conversation between Bill and Naomi. I am looking forward to hearing her later this year at the Dodge Poetry Festival

Dear Patti,
I am not familiar with Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry, but will look into it. I look forward to the discovery! Some poets that I could say "eat my problems" are: St. Teresa of Avila, Emily Dickinson, ee cummings, and Macrina Wiederkehr among others. I'm very sad right now that one of my favorite books of poetry/prose called Spiritual Literacy (it is a collection of amazing poetry/prose by several authors) is somehow jammed in the drawer of my nightstand. Do you think this is a metaphor? For what? I've been trying to get it out for weeks, but I have not been able to. My hands have turned red from trying to maneuver it loose through the barely open space of the drawer. Maybe I just have to take the whole nightstand apart piece by piece. Maybe the book is saying to me: "How much do you really want to read me?" Hahaha. But somehow that is not funny! ~ I have a thing with stuck drawers. One time the drawer in a furnished apartment where I had recently moved in was jammed for weeks until I finally took the whole drawer off and found someone's love letters that had been left there for many years !
P.S. Your essays also eat my problems Patti!! :) I had previously always turned to poetry out of habit for mind/heart reflection until I began to read your essays and discovered a new light in prose!

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