Naomi Shihab Nye


“Oh my gosh!” I exclaimed. I jumped from my seat at the restaurant and ran over to the window which was plastered with a colorful assortment of flyers.

“What’s wrong?” my husband asked, clearly startled by my mad dash.

“Naomi Shihab Nye is speaking in Augusta this week!” I exclaimed.

“Oh,” he said, “I thought someone got hit by a car.”

I took a picture of the flyer to capture the details and bubbled and babbled with enthusiasm, explaining to my husband who Naomi Shihab is, why she is so amazing and how stupendously happy I was that I could go hear her speak.

“Do you want to come?” I asked, after finally taking a breath.

“Um…no,” he answered.


Two nights later:
I’m at the University of Maine at Augusta and people are gradually filling the seats in the small auditorium. My eyes drift over the audience, pausing on each face, expecting to recognize someone. It’s sort of a game for me: Maine is a small state and it’s unusual not to see someone you know in a crowd–even if it is half an hour away from home. I continue to gaze until…Yes! That woman sitting down in the third row. I know her! But how do I know her? From where? Oh, from the bookstore downtown? …Maybe…Then it hits me. The forehead smacking DUH! Of course I recognize her! It’s Naomi Shihab Nye! Sitting in the audience, I enjoy the ridiculousness of that moment and my simultaneous fan giddiness. I’m sitting in a room and breathing the same air as Naomi Shihab Nye. Wow!

IMG_1267.jpgAfter some prize presentations and readings from local poets, she takes the stage. She is warm, funny, and simply wonderful. She shares a number of poems and weaves in conversation and amusing anecdotes as she reads. Her somewhat husky, low voice adds another layer of enjoyment to the poems. There’s something magical about hearing a poet read her own work, isn’t there? (If you’d like to hear her voice, here is a link to her reading a very short poem “Please Describe How You Became A Writer.”) She reads one of my favorite poems, Famous, and an audience member comments that it was recently recited by a judge in a court case. (Click here if you want to read more about that amazing story. Poetry in the courtroom–Now that’s something to celebrate!) The audience is rapt, spellbound by the worlds she weaves with her words. Some funny. Some profound. Many both. Her work highlights the common places, the places where our lives intersect and converge, where our shared humanity is fully visible. In her poem “A Valentine for Ernest Mann” (another favorite of mine), Shahib writes “poems hide…” and then she elaborates, “…what we have to do/is live in a way that lets us find them.” I’m so thankful that she is adept at finding and sharing the hidden poetry in her world.

After the show, I wait in line to talk with her, to have her sign my books. She is kind and gracious and we speak fondly of a common friend, the same friend who first introduced me to her work. On the drive home, I play and replay our conversation in my head, cringing at my phrasing and nervous comments, sparked from that fan giddiness I spoke of earlier. Ugh…why did I say that? Ah, well, I hope that her keen vision sees past my inept small talk to my unadulterated appreciation and admiration.

Later that night, back at home, I page through my new books of her poetry and old ones as well. In my newly purchased book, 19 Varieties of Gazelle, I tumble into love with her poem, “Staying Close”, from the first delightful image. Here’s the first stanza for you to enjoy.

Staying Close

On your tree surprised lemons
wore small caps of snow.
The bowl of steaming lentils
opened its wide mouth as we sat and sat,
stitching the seam of talk,
till the man with the rug from Baghdad arrived
rolling out its long length inside your door.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a link to this poem, but if you’d like to explore more poetry, click the next link and head on over to Poetry Friday Roundup at the blog Teaching Authors. Enjoy!

16 thoughts on “Naomi Shihab Nye

  1. Tammy Breitweiser says:

    I love her work as well! I was introduced to her by Laura Robb. My favorite poem of hers is “Secrets”. How amazing you were able to hear her speak. She typically doesn’t speak much! Thanks for sharing this amazing experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I might have driven to Augusta to see her had I known. What an amazing event! Maybe someday I will hear her. I read the Gazelles recently, and I also like the surprised lemons. She has such wonderful humor and command of language. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve met people I admire, and I can relate all too well to that “oh, why did I sound like a giddy school girl?!?” feeling! It’s so wonderful when you get to meet someone you really admire, and they turn out to be just as warm and kind and lovely as you hoped they would be.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Can I say that I am simply envious of your opportunity to hear Nye read her poetry and speak about her life and work. Though I had to laugh at your husbands’s response. He sounds just like mine would! And yes, I would have shared your giddy fan-girl feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lindabaie says:

    I adore when people are doing rather ordinary things and when they are, something great happens, serendipity at that restaurant! You’ve taken us there as much as you could. I loved reading your story, and Naomi Nye, too. What wonderful gifts she has given all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another part of your humanity shines – your vulnerability. Rarely are we in the presence of “celebrities.” It’s fun being star struck.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was about to write a comment that virtually mirrored Kay’s, so I guess I won’t bother. But truly, happenstance is a beautiful thing. I’m so glad you got to hear her speak, Molly.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tabatha says:

    So cool!! Thanks for sharing this special moment with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a wonderful evening! Yes, Naomi Shihab Nye is “simply wonderful.” Her wise poems, brimming with “our shared humanity” take my breath away. Thank you for sharing this magical experience with us, Molly! So glad you saw that sign!


  10. joyacey says:

    Did you go to the poetry reading alone? I think it is one thing most poets do alone (that and our writing.) I think my husband would pay me NOT to attend readings, so long ago I learned to go by myself.
    Thank you for this delightful post.


  11. Serendipity knocked on your door and a treasure walked in . . . Sound like a wonderful Poetry reading, thanks for sharing all Molly!


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