Naomi Shihab Nye

American writer

Naomi Shihab Nye (Arabic: نعومي شهاب ناي; born March 12, 1952) is a Palestinian American poet, editor, songwriter, and novelist.

Naomi Shihab Nye in 2008

Quotes edit

  • "Look at something ahead of you in the distance, then look at it when you get right up next to it, then turn around and look at it again when it is behind you." (p. 108)
    • Turtles of Oman (2014)
  • Aref kept thinking that no matter what you say, there is something more inside that you can't say. You talk around it in a circle, like stirring water with a stick, when ripples swirl out from the center. (p. 259)
    • Turtles of Oman (2014)
  • Here at home, the night belonged to the moon. Electricity was rationed, three hours each evening.
    • "Local Hospitality", anthologized in Qissat: Short Stories by Palestinian Women edited by Jo Glanville (2006)
  • Suheila commented that people argued most where there was least to talk about. If conversation was rich and subjects many, talk kept rolling fluidly, passing over rough spots like water over rocks. But once everything had been said, you started paddling backwards, flinging water and scraping your knees.
    • "Local Hospitality"
  • Sometimes it works to fight logic with logic and craziness with craziness. This truth, however, cannot be depended on.
    • "Local Hospitality"
  • Tear gas canisters scattered in the fields by Israeli soldiers say, "Made in Pennsylvania."...I keep thinking of those signs in the United States at construction sites: YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK HERE.
    • Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places (1996) p 226 ("Banned Poem")
  • Think of it: two peoples, so closely related it's hard to tell them apart in the streets sometimes, claiming the same land. The end of the twentieth century.
    • Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places (1996) p 227 ("Banned Poem")
  • what lovely, larger life becomes ours when we listen to one another
    • Introduction to This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World (1992)
  • I think of poets over the ages sending their voices out into the sky, leaving quiet, indelible trails.
    • Introduction to This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World (1992)
  • Whenever someone suggests "how much is lost in translation!" I want to say, "Perhaps but how much is gained!" A new world of readers, for one thing.
    • Introduction to This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World (1992)

Everything Comes Next (2022) edit

"Slim Thoughts" edit

  • why, out of all the talk, do you remember that thing?
  • Give up the annoying question, "How long does this have to be?" Just wonder-how long does it need to be? Then try to find out.
  • Each thing gives us something else...The more any of us writes, the more our words will "come to us." If we trust in the words and their own mysterious relationships with one another, they will help us find things out.
  • We feel uplifted, exhilarated. Writing regularly can help us feel that way too. It slows and eases us, calms us down. Having a focal point is generative. Consider the spaciousness of the sky over the water, which we often forget about as we scurry through our days. I love what the poet Marvin Bell has suggested about writing-Read something, then write something. Read something else, then write something else. It's all connected, it's always been connected. Let one activity inform the other. Streams of language exchanging their powers.
  • I do believe in overwriting, then cutting back. Physical fitness of the pen, page, and mind, interwoven. If you believe in revision you don't have to worry about perfection. Try not to worry about anything. It's impossible, of course, but try. I do think writing will help you live your life.

Interview (2019) edit

  • I am moved by her (Janna Jihad Ayyad) as I have always been moved by the struggle of Palestinian people to maintain any kind of regular normal life under extremely harsh circumstances.
  • I feel very close to that part of each of us which remains young, idealistic, and curious.
  • When people tilt their heads just slightly to imagine another person's experience, the space inside the mind grows.

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners (2018) edit

  • Voices as guides, lines and stanzas as rooms, sometimes a single word the furniture on which to sit...each day we could open the door, and enter, and be found. These days I wonder-was life always strange-just strange in different ways? Does speaking some of the strangeness help us survive it, even if we can't solve or change it?
  • Perhaps we have more voices in the air now-on TV, in our phones and computers and little saved videos-but are we able to hear them as well? Are these the voices we really need? Is our listening life-space deep enough? Can we tell ourselves when we need to walk away from chatter, turn it off entirely for half a day, or a full day, or a whole weekend, ease into a realm of something slower, but more tangible? Can we go outside and listen?
  • If you're an "I read before I go to sleep" sort of person, why not add a little more I-just-got-home-from-school-or-work reading? In the modern world, we deserve to wind down. Or perhaps some morning reading, to launch yourself? How long does it take to read a poem? Slowing to a more gracious pacing-trying not to hurry or feel overwhelmed-inch by inch-one thought at a time-can be a deeply helpful mantra. It's a gift we give our own minds.

Interview with On Being (2016) edit

  • just today, some students I was talking to in a Skype class in Kuwait — how much I love the modern world, that we can do these things.
  • I think that is very important, not feeling separate from text — feeling your thoughts as text or the world as it passes through you as a kind of text; the story that you would be telling to yourself about the street even as you walk down it or as you drive down it; as you look out the window, the story you would be telling. It always seemed very much to me, as a child, that I was living in a poem — that my life was the poem.
  • I think I said this like 40 years ago in a poem — use a single word as an oar that could get you through the days, just by holding a word, thinking about it differently, and seeing how that word rubs against other words, how it interplays with other words. There’s a luxury in that kind of thinking about language and text, but it’s very basic, as well. It’s simple. It’s invisible. It doesn’t cost anything.
  • The minute you place yourself above, what does that do to others?
  • it’s mysterious how these power structures unfold, isn’t it, and how we’re willing to accept them and allow them to prevail without questioning them.
  • something I’ve started saying over the past few years that helped me think about it is — I have so many Jewish friends, both in the United States and other countries, who would agree with this — but the idea that there could not be a sort of alliance between big power countries like the United States and Israel/Palestine that was more equivalent: Why do you have to have only one friend in the region? That’s like the dark side of junior high. In junior high, you learned that you could probably have two friends that are not exactly alike, and you might survive, and in fact, you’d be a much more interesting person. Why couldn’t the United States have two friends? Why couldn’t they ask better questions?
  • There are just so many mysteries about people wanting to presume their pain has more of a reality than someone else’s pain. And I think all the holy persons of all backgrounds and faiths have always called upon us to empathize in a more profound way, to stretch our imaginations to what that other person might be experiencing. And it sounds so basic, but these days, when you listen to the loud voices, you wonder, what’s happened to that? What’s happened to the awareness that we don’t have to be vindictive and continue on in a cycle of revenge and violence?
  • That feeling of being connected to someone else, when you allow yourself to be very particular, is another mystery of writing.
  • You can sit down and write three sentences — how long does that take, three minutes, five minutes? — and be giving yourself a very rare gift of listening to yourself, just finding out, when you go back and look at what you wrote. And how many times we think, “Oh, I would never have remembered that if I hadn’t written it down — when and how did that even occur to me? I sort of like it, this week, and it could help me, and now I want to connect it to something else.”
  • People I read a lot to my son were people like Robert Bly and Lucille Clifton, Frank O’Hara for some reason, Chinese poems, Japanese poems.
  • I think many times the way immigrants — people look at immigrants with such a sense of diminishment, as if this person is less than I am because they’ve left their country. Well, I actually think they’re more than we are, because they’re braver. They’ve gone some other place. They have to operate in another language. How easy would that be? If I had to go to China today and start living in China and doing everything in Chinese, it would be very, very hard. So you think about the bravery of these people and the desperation with which they’re trying to find a realm of safety for their families and — just the basic safeties that we take for granted, every day we get up. And I don’t know; I don’t know how a world with so many resources and so many religious traditions and good hopes — how we can keep doing these things to one another in the world that create refugee populations. It just seems outrageous. Why is that happening so much?
  • As readers and writers, we find a certain home in books and language and literature — like I hear a Mary Oliver poem, and it’s as if I’ve been her neighbor, because I’ve read so many of her poems, even though I’ve never spent a day in her town.
  • “Cross That Line” is an important poem to me because I loved Paul Robeson so much as a child.

Interview (1998) edit

in Conversations with the World by Phebe Davidson

  • So how can we continue to help-be tuning forks in some way? I guess that's the job of writers. We're tuning forks. We strike a note and it's not what we sing, so much, just that we strike this note-and then that note resonates in someone else's life, maybe they hear a harmonious note in their own lives.
  • A fundamentalist mind doesn't entertain anything. It latches on, clutches on, to something, and says Only this! That pretty well eliminates metaphor...And fanatics don't ask the questions, and to me that's always been the most critical creative act. It's to ask questions, period. And fundamentalist minds don't. I guess they think they have the answers and so they don't have to ask any more questions. And so I don't trust them. (Maybe the fundamentalist doesn't have the strength for questions.) Maybe not. Or the stretch. The idea that you could stretch and come back to your own shape. That's threatening. And that's one thing that poetry can really give us - the sense of the stretch. That we can always stretch-poems help us feel that about our experiences. Fluent and fluid.
  • The person who's vanished is the one you really think about.
  • I've always felt that any little bit of other in our lives - even if its that we grew up on the edge of town and all our friends were on the inside of town-gives much more than it takes away.
  • details have always been the doorway by which we approach and apprehend the larger things of the world, the larger truths, whatever they might be.
  • Jerusalem is so permeated with layers and textures, minglings of all kinds that, once you've lived there you don't get over it.
  • I've always felt there was a song right around us all the time. When people are missing that, they need to wake up. They need to find their poetry where they are.
  • Having a child, for the first time, gave me a sense of being part of history, of what being part of an ongoing human species is like. I saw all people in the world differently. I had different empathy for people's situations, once I became a parent.
  • I have a personal mission at this time of my life. I really think our culture—our time- has been sickened by the word "busy." That word is one of the worst symptoms of our time. What it about our lives, and how people consider their lives, is sobering. This is not to deny that we all have lots of things we're doing. But I think by saying that we're busy all the time we're negating experience at its heart...It's become a contagious code word of this awful supposed state we place or imagine ourselves in. If we really love poetry, it wants us to give the word "busy" and feeling "busy"...I think that we're denying ourselves experience if we are constantly casting up this smoke screen of busy-ness. Because then we're saying that we can't get to the thing that we really wanted to- but what is that? Have we lost it or let it erode? Who will we be when we get there? Each thing is still one thing.
  • Especially when you write, I think, you become cognizant of the little threads carrying us along everywhere, tying us together and linking us up.
  • (And if you could choose something to carry you through, say, the next forty or so years, what would that be?) It's already been given to me. Listening and passing it on! I'm not one of those people who walks around all the time trying to feel worthy of all my life's gifts, although I know people like that and respect them. They're always asking Do I deserve this life I've been given?—I just don't think in those terms. Pass on something good and you'll deserve it. You don't have to be perfect. When I was turning forty, a few years ago, I thought a lot about energy. That was the issue, not age. Not all the dumb things that people want to focus on. To have a kind of vital sense of voice and story, life and word, the essential ongoing energy-I hope to keep inviting it in and not to be one of those people who goes to parties and talks about all the writing grants you've never gotten. Not to turn into one of those petulant, whiny writers. To maintain an energy and openness to what comes my way. That would be what I would hope for.
  • We always heard when we were little that to read a poem we needed to read it slowly and we needed to read it more than once and to write a poem you had to pay close attention, write it slowly. And I think we have to live that way. We really do. There's a Thai proverb Life is so short, we must move very slowly. And I think that the word busy-ness finally just has to go. Busy-ness has to go.

Habibi (1997) edit

  • If you could be anyone, would you choose to be yourself?
  • All our roots go deep down, even if they’re tangled
  • You will need to be brave. There are hard days coming. There are hard words waiting in people’s mouths to be spoken. There are walls. You can’t break them. Just find doors in them. (Sitti)
  • "I would like to go to school with the donkeys in the field. To stand all day in the free air with an open mouth. No bells ringing."
  • "Some days were long sentences flowing into one another."
  • "Some people carried anger around for years, in a secret box inside their bodies, and it grew tighter like a hardening knot. The problem with it getting tighter and smaller was that the people did, too, hiding it. ... But other people responded differently. They let their anger grow so large it ate them up--even their voices and laughter. And still they couldn't get rid of it."

Interview with Al Jadid (1996) edit

  • I always took writing as being a way of thinking.
  • Writing...helps us identify what makes the whole geography of our lives.
  • It has become very clear to me over the years that Americans, especially young Americans, need to be encouraged to listen to voices from elsewhere. Some of us grow up with the mistaken idea that ours is the only reading and writing culture, and that we are the only literary people in the world. Of course, the United Stated has one of the shortest literary histories in the world, so we need to be reminding children and students to be alert for voices from elsewhere
  • if you read the poems of someone somewhere you know a lot more about that country than you know if you just study its crops or weather conditions.
  • I don't understand how people can disconnect politics from daily life, because that's how politics count. We're daily life people and that's where politics become a reality to us.
  • Arab culture is full of great story tellers, and it is one of the favorite pastimes of Arab people. I think that there is a deep hunger in the human psyche for story and the nourishment it gives us. People don't live on one level chatter alone, rhetoric or just the conveyance of news. We need the threading and layering of a day that story gives us, and that's very much from the culture.
  • I would strongly suggest that bicultural families such as mine teach their children both languages from the beginning if they can.
  • Language is its own music.
  • I've always thought of song writing and poem writing as cousins.
  • Part of the role of the writer is to encourage other people to discover their voices.
  • I think people who work on translation projects think that they're somehow peace negotiators because the belief is that we'll never stop killing one another until we understand and see one another as human beings. I think that's true. That's why it is very important to me to receive responses to poems like that from Israeli or Jewish poets; they're even more important than responses from Arab poets. When I get responses from an Israeli Jewish poet saying "I'm listening, I'm sorry, I don't like this either," that matters to me a lot.

Quotes about Naomi Shihab Nye edit

  • The texture of Nye's work reflects a life filled with nourishing family and wider human connections, and with travel as well...Always concerned with the detail of daily life and the emotional weight it carries, Nye is a poet who finds poetry everywhere around her, as well as a prose artist who brings to her work keen observation leavened with humor and compassion. Writing, as she says, is for her a necessary act.
    • Phebe Davidson, Conversations with the World (1998)
  • Savvy writer
  • born on a bridge between two cultures, poet Naomi Shihab Nye is like a brilliant, talkative telephone operator in the Global Village: she plugs the reader in, makes connections, audacious comments, lyrical phrases.
    • Paulette Jiles blurb for Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places (1996)
  • Naomi Shihab Nye, for her poems, sisterhood, and heart.
  • I say with Naomi Nye, "savoring the close experience of local and international kinship, This is the nectar off which I will feed."
    • Kim Stafford blurb for Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places (1996)
  • It’s pretty intriguing to follow Naomi Shihab Nye’s idea that most of us actually “think in poems,” whether we know it or not. What she commends as a simple practice of writing explains the surprising power of what I know best from a long life of journaling. The act of writing things down just helps. As she says, it can be a tool to survive in hard times, or to anchor our days, but also to get into a more gracious community with ourselves — or rather, with all of the selves that live on in each of us at any given moment: the “child self, your older self, your confused self, your self that makes a lot of mistakes.” Naomi Shihab Nye was long a self-professed “wandering poet.” Today she’s the Young People’s Poet Laureate of the Poetry Foundation, while also a professor of creative writing at Texas State University. And one poem she wrote, called “Kindness,” is held close by people around the world.
  • In "Lunch in Nablus City Park," Naomi Shihab Nye asks, "Where do the souls of hills hide / when there is shooting in the valleys? / What makes a man with a gun seem bigger than a man with almonds?"
    • Melissa TuckeyGhost Fishing : An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology (2018)
  • The magic trick of Naomi Nye's writing is to render the exotic familiar and the familiar exotic through apparently effortless feats of perception and language.
    • Marion Winik blurb for Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places (1996)

External links edit

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