Thursday Poems: Song Book by Naomi Shihab Nye

I’m going to have to make this quick — I’ve left Sydney for a writing holiday, and I’m currently burning hours in Istanbul, so I’ve not got much time. However, I wouldn’t forgive myself if I forgot to rave about my most recent discovery/poetic love: Naomi Shihab Nye, an Arab American poet.

I came across her as I do most poems these days — through a link on Twitter, bless that chaotic jigsaw puzzle of a social media platform. Though short, this poem ‘Song Book’ is absolutely lovely. It is not a particularly original concept, being about the act of writing and its instruments, but one thing this subject will never lack is an audience: we writers are naturally obsessed with our own vocation. Obsession is the one and only determining factor in the creation of successful writers; if you are not devoted to this craft beyond all reason, how can you expect to hurdle the one million and one obstacles life will throw at you, the endless rejections, the constant miasma of fear and self-doubt and loathing?

So, we write about the subject, and we read it, too. Given that, you inevitably feel as if you have seen it all, but Nye does a wonderful job here with a combination of elegant simplicity and deft personal touches, culminating in those sensational last two lines:

but we are still adrift, floating,
thrum-full of longing layers of sound.

Just gorgeous, isn’t it? Read the whole thing here!

In all honesty, after reading that, I went on a bit of binge over at Poets.org and read a bunch of her poems. I feel like an older, wiser, female version of myself wrote this poems, such is their resonance; it’s as if the words were drawn in secret from my blood and my bones and my hope and my fear. Discovering her work has been an absolute balm, and on that note, I’ll share one more of my favourites, ‘Arabic’, which begins like this:

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Like I said, drawn in secret from my fire and my darkness, my joy and my hurt.

Naomi Shihab Nye is a wonder, and she is waiting for you to discover her — be it anew, or again.

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