Naomi Shihab Nye

(12 March 1952 / St. Louis, Missouri)

Naomi Shihab Nye
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a poet, songwriter, and novelist. She was born to a Palestinian father and American mother. Although she regards herself as a "wandering poet", she refers to San Antonio as her home.

Career

Her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, explored the theme of similarities and differences between cultures, which would become one of her lifelong areas of focus. Her other books include poetry collections 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me, Red Suitcase, Field Trip and Fuel; a collection of essays entitled Never in a Hurry; a young-adult novel called Habibi (the semi-autobiographical story of an Arab-American teenager who moves to ... more »

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Quotations

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  • ''I'm not interested in
    who suffered the most.
    I'm interested in
    people getting over it.''
    Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), U.S. poet. "Jerusalem," lines 1-4 (1994).
  • ''I can never see fashion models,
    lean angular cheeks, strutting hips
    and blooming hair, without thinking of
    the skulls at the catacombs in Lima, Peru.''
    Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), U.S. poet. "Morning Paper, Society Page," lines 1-4 (1994).
  • I support all people on earth
    who have bodies like and unlike my body,
    skins and moles and old scars,
    secret and public hair,
    crooked toes. I support
    those who have ...
    Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), U.S. poet. "Those Whom We Do Not Know," part 2, lines 1-6 (1994).
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Comments about Naomi Shihab Nye

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  • Megan M (5/20/2006 9:06:00 PM)

    I would like to point out some flaws in the previous commenter's reaction to Naomi Shihab Nye's 'To Any Would-Be Terrorists'.

    The numbers in [] will follow the comment with my thoughts.

    Ms Nye is sad to have to call the 9/11 murderers'terrorists'? Why? A poet lives to name things and name them truthfully. Is Ms. Nye in poetry or public realations? Don't be afraid to call things by name - terrorist murderers: that is what they were.[1] She claims 'they [The terrorists] wounded a huge community of people in the Middle East, in the United States and all over the world.' Maybe, maybe not; there was plenty of rejoicing throughout the middle east on 9/11. No, the terrorists - as Ms Nye wrote 'kill[ed] thousands of innocent, international people in those buildings and scar[ed] their families forever.' Now what were you saying about wounds? [2]

    'Because I feel a little closer to you [terrorists] than many Americans could possibly feel, or ever want to feel...I know what kinds of foods you like. I would feed them to you if you were right here...' In what sense does anyone feel close to hardened committed murderers? Why would anyone want to? Isn't that a bit vain? [3] Like poetry or the language of food, murder too is a language - the oldest in fact, as old as Cain and Abel. You feel closer to these monsters than I do - go ahead, be my guest. In reality I don't think you know the first thing about murder but your vanity has propelled to stake out a foolish moral posture. I'll grant that you know the foods the terrorists were raised on but before they killed they seemed to be more interested in booze and lap dances than conversation and couscous.[4]

    Ms Nye I grant points for wanting to believe that such monsters could be moved by home cooking, Rumi's poetry, mint and a good tongue lashing. If we could stop terrorism with these we would be pouring billions into tea shops and poetry readings. But we can't. Poetry is a dialogue of a human community and the 9/11 terrorists left the human community far behind some time before 9/11.[5] Granted Ms Nye writes to would-be terrorists but still, poetry is not therapy. Poetry is a self -dialogue of absolute freedom (just you and your paper and pen) - a freedom that is incompatible with religious fanaticism.[6]

    'But this tragedy could never help the Palestinians.'
    I wish Ms Nye wouldn't refer to 9/11 as a tragedy. It was an attack.[7]

    'Make our family proud.'
    Why would Ms Nye want these monsters in her family? Just because they scream Allauakbar before they kill people? Can't she see that these monsters take themselves out of the human family? To claim them as though they still possessed humane/familial attrubute and agency after they murder is morally vain and a little sick.[8]




    [1] True, a poet 'lives' to name things, however, that is not all that poetry is for. Poetry is expression and art, not just the naming of something. She is sad that she has to label them in such a way because she is sad that such labels must exist, not for the naming itself. Did you only read that first line? Or did you read the rest of the paragraph as well? Because if you only read that first line, you would have missed all of this:

    I am sorry I have to call you that, but I don't know how else to get your attention. I hate that word. Do you know how hard some of us have worked to get rid of that word, to deny its instant connection to the Middle East? And now look. Look what extra work we have. Not only did your colleagues kill thousands of innocent, international people in those buildings and scar their families forever, they wounded a huge community of people in the Middle East, in the United States and all over the world. If that's what they wanted to do, please know the mission was a terrible success, and you can stop now.

    Does that sound like she is afraid of calling them that? No, she is sad that such labels must exist.

    [2] This commenter sounds a bit bitter, hmm?

    [3] Ah dear commenter, you have missed the point of her statement. Ms. Nye is herself an Arab-American, and that is precisely why she feels 'close' to them - she doesn't feel emotionally close to them, she is culturally familiar and therefore knowledgable about them and their actions. It is not in the least bit vain, it is a testament of the deep-set roots of culture. She wishes to prevent such future crimes by teaching them to be peaceful, sit and drink tea and listen to poetry and be peaceful. Please, I would love to hear how you think this is 'vain' of her.

    [4] Your ignorance astounds me.

    [5] Have you ever actually studied poetry? Have you ever read any of the political poems that are floating around? Do you not understand that poetry was and still is a means of communication? It is not just a dialogue of a human community - it is a dialogue between a person and his or her surroundings, often to try to bring about change. Poetry is not only an expression of emotion, but a desire to make something different out of what we have.

    [6] Again, you are obviously very ignorant of what poetry is. I suggest reading a bit more of it before passing judgment such as you have.

    [7] Yes, it was an attack. But how was it not tragic? The loss of so many lives was not a tragedy? I point you to the definition of tragedy (number 2) . I do believe that a tragedy is exactly what September 11,2001 was. Pull your over-inflated head out of your bottom for two minutes and you would know that.

    [8] Again, you miss the point of her letter. It was not to the terrorists that are, it was to the terrorists who might be in the future. She is trying to pursuade them out of the deeds that so horrendously condemned a culture. She is trying to convince them that what they are doing is wrong, that it is not for God but for their own selfishness. I beg you, read the piece again without being so ignorant and blinded by your own prejudices. You might actually understand her words this time.

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