Saturday, March 28, 2009

Naomi Shihab Nye Poems

This week and next I have been / will be in a writing workshop with visiting writer Naomi Shihab Nye. This will be my last "class" ever as a student. I was thinking of dropping it because I'm just so tired, and there's grading and PhD paperwork to format, but I'm glad I stayed in because she is such a lively, inquisitive, passionate person. For example, I think she is on a mission to eat at every locally-owned restaurant in town, and this weekend is visiting the sandhills and the migrating cranes. And she really, really likes W.S. Merwin and William Stafford. Check plus plus.

Here are two poems of hers I particularly enjoy for their silences (which is what makes a good poem so lasting and meaningful, not the words):

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don't I know you? say no.
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.
If they say we should get together.
say why? It's not that you don't love them any more.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished. When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.


A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.


our friend Ben said...

These are lovely. Thanks, Benjamin! Now you should write a "last class" poem...

Susan Tomlinson said...

Ooh, how fortunate you are to participate in the workshop! You'll get the other things done, too.

Do try to get some rest, though.

Susan Tomlinson said...

Are you going to ASLE this year? If so, we should meet in person.

Frances said...

How wonderful. I am so glad you took the class, tired or not. This is some of the best I have ever read.

Barry said...

I have to agree, these are wonderful. I am especially drawn to 'Streets'

Benjamin Vogt said...

OFB--No more class / empty the glass / of its celebration / one more alliteration / spilling sweet sounds / send in the clowns.
Susan--No ASLE. I've never been, and would like to some day, but only if I'm presenting. I'm taking the summer off. Completely and totally.
Frances--I think she has a lot in common with other poets I enjoy, and that we need more of, i.e. with simplicity.
Teza--That one was written about her father, who had just died or was about to, I believe.

Lynn said...

Thanks for the Naomi poems and all (the first one blows me away, and she was one of he delightful things about living in San Antonio in my years there), but HEY! Your widget says dissertation defense is in 1 hr, 32 min, 24 sec! Best of luck, congratulations, and enjoy that summer OFF!

k said...

Sweet! Now hurry up at become a tenured track professor at a prestigious university so you can write me a kick ass letter of recommendation for grad school!


But seriously. Congratulations, BV.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Lynn--So glad you liked her poems, now go a book, too! :) I will soooo be taking the summer of it's not even funny.
Mr. K--I don't want to become a TTP at a PU. Too much red tape, infighting, committee work.... But, I shall do what I can for ya anyway because I will be a famous writer. Of course. As you may well be.