She loves mixtures of people. She loves children and the way words weave themselves together, almost without effort. She is a storyteller poet and a real-life, warm and wonderful human being. She came to visit, and I was there in the room with my notebook and pencil, writing along with a master. It was a cool spring day and I had been invited by a dear friend and mentor to sit in on a limited capacity workshop with Naomi Shihab Nye.
Most of what she shared for the writers in the room related to practice methods and approaches, and these ideas affirmed what I am already doing: living my life, writing in the spaces between the action of life. In another suggestion, she offered, “Write three questions at the end of the day for a month, and then look at them. You will discover that while you could have been concentrating and straining so hard for your “big idea” to arrive, the themes of your questions wove themselves together while you weren’t looking.”
She read a poem written by a class of preschoolers, and one by her mentor William Stafford. Both had stunning imagery and emotional pivots. Both were rich in meaning and lovely to consider. Poetry is for everyone, she said.
For Everyone. For little tiny children and for you and for me.
Here’s a link to another one of my favorites:
The Small Vases from Hebron
Poetry, according to Georgia Heard and Ralph Fletcher is three things: Images, feeling and rhythm. And it’s more.
It’s people and their relationship with life. It’s magic and surprise. It’s a voice speaking in a different way than we talk in our ordinary exchanges. And in the case of Naomi Shihab Nye, it is love and it is the power to move different people closer to one another.
Consider Gate A4, her signature piece:
At the Q & A session after her evening reading event, I requested one of my favorites and she generously read it at the closing finale.
What inspires me about Nye is her positive encouragement for writers. She calls us to keep writing, to keep sharing work. Enter contests, form writer exchange groups. Reach out across miles and difference.
One person asked if she felt like she ever had to sacrifice or give anything up for her art. To which she said, “I knew by the time I was seven years old, I was going to be a poet. So no, I never felt like I gave anything up.”
She said that literature “gives us space to understand our lives better.” And that “life moves so fast, we must move through it very slow.”
Here’s the short poem I wrote in response to her prompts during the workshop. I’m stunned at how it seems to solve my main writing problem.
Why do I avoid returning to the longer project as if I am afraid of it and what it says about me?
I remember being afraid of the black bears in the Shenandoah but I don’t remember the weight of the backpack while I walked carefully by.
A final reminder and a gift for all of us who are struggling in the midst of the process:
“Nothing is wasted.”
Thank you Naomi Shihab Nye, for all you are giving.