Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Shihab Nye’

We have reasons to be sad, but happiness cannot be pinned down, explains poet Naomi Shihab Nye

February 6, 2017

So Much Happiness is a beautiful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye (1952) from the same collection of selected poems, Words Under the Words, mentioned in the previous entry on her poem, Kindness.

naomi-shihab-nyeIn this video, Naomi explains how some poems are given to her, when she listens. The first poem, on happiness, came after she and her husband were married. The second poem, on kindness, came after an unsettling event took place on their honeymoon. They had been robbed while traveling on a bus in South America and lost everything. After she wrote the poem, help came in unexpected ways.*

Having both poems read by the poet in this grouping is special! Thanks to Pamela Robertson-Pearce who filmed Naomi Shihab Nye during her visit to the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 2006, and to Neil Astley who posted the video for Bloodaxe Books.

One of Naomi’s favorite poets, and mine too, is William Stafford. He said this about her poetry: “In the current literary scene one of the most heartening influences is the work of Naomi Shihab Nye. Her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insights. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life.”

So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye

*Read more about that incident in Spirituality&Health: The Incomparable Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness.

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Poet Naomi Shihab Nye shares how sorrow, and then its opposite, kindness, can transform us

February 6, 2017

In this video, recorded at the Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, Palestinian American poet, writer, teacher Naomi Shihab Nye (1952) shares how she wrote one of her favorite poems, Kindness, and then reads it. It came to her, mysteriously, after a dramatic situation, in which she and her husband were robbed during their honeymoon while traveling by bus in South America. When she sat down to write, she said it just came to her. “I actually was the secretary for Kindness.”

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.
Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Kim Rosen interviewed Naomi for Spirituality&Health. In it, she shared more details about that incident, which took place in Columbia in 1978. She also spoke about the power of poetry to transform lives. We want another kind of story, she said, one that helps us feel connected with one another. She feels good poems can harmonize and refocus us, create empathy, more understanding, and lead to more peace in the world.*

The ending to this poem reminds me in a way of the theme of Derek Walcott’s poem, Love after Love, when you recognize your essential nature, as if for the first time. Love and Kindness are interchangeable, where being kind to yourself is loving yourself, the basis for loving others.

Also see So Much Happiness, from the same volume of poetry. In the accompanying video, Naomi Shihab Nye reads both poems.

*The Incomparable Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness

Every War Has Two Losers, a Haydn Reiss film on poet and conscientious objector William Stafford

October 18, 2009

EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS

A Poet’s Meditation on Peace

A FILM BASED ON THE JOURNALS OF WILLIAM STAFFORD

Haydn Reiss (producer/director) has been making independent films for twenty years that often focus on writers and poets. As a producer for hire his clients include organizations working on the front lines of education, the environment, culture, human rights, politics and health. In 1998, Reiss directed the award-winning RUMI: Poet of the Heart, which was seen on over 100 PBS stations and screened in festivals around the world.

EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS tells the story of how one man, William Stafford (1914-1993), chose to answer the call to war. It is a story of confronting beliefs that swirl around war — Isn’t war inevitable? Even necessary? What about the enemy? Stafford refused to fight in World War Two and served four years in camps for conscientious objectors. Later he was the winner of the National Book Award for poetry.

Other participants appearing in the film include Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, John Gorka, Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael Meade, W.S. Merwin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kim Stafford, and Alice Walker.

Director Haydn Reiss first met Stafford in 1990 and later produced a one-hour documentary, William Stafford & Robert Bly: A Literary Friendship. That film chronicles the similarities and differences between these two close friends and great poets. Approaches to writing, teaching and the meaning of poetry are all explored in this lively and engaging film. (The film is included as a DVD extra on EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS)

Interview with Haydn Reiss:

Q: What’s the genesis of the film?

HR: In 2006, I read the book the film is based on and that was edited by his son Kim, “Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace & War” (Milkweed Editions 2004). It’s fifty years of excerpts from Bill’s journals related to war and reconciliation. As with all of Stafford’s writings, there is a sense of a deep intelligence at work that stays human and available to the reader. There’s humor, heartbreak and a general sense, or assertion, that we human beings are capable of doing better with each other. I’m a father of young children and I have to believe that’s true. More importantly, I had to try and make a contribution to that effort and that’s what I attempted with the film.

Q: How does the book differ from the film?

HR: Obviously there’s a lot more writing and poems in the book than the film. The challenge was to pull journal entries that could be arranged in some form or fashion and create an overall arc to the film. A beginning, middle and end has not been much improved upon in the world of storytelling. All the material could be endlessly mixed since there was no inherent order to it other than chronological. So mix it we did some untold number of times until the cylinders seemed to line up and my editor and I had something we liked. The film brings in its own ingredients of music, images and a remarkable collection of participants.

Q: What do you hope the film does for the viewer?

HR: It would be very satisfying to think that after viewing the film you would ask yourself, at a deep level, what you really believe about war. And the follow-up question of “How did I come to believe that?” I think we have been very successfully indoctrinated into accepting that war is a given, it’s what human beings do. The distinction is, and I think this is what Stafford is saying, is “Yes, we do and can make war. But what else can we do?” The undiscovered possibilities in human behavior are what we should pursue. The die is not cast; imagination and creativity are not in short supply. That this is the real, pragmatic work of the world.

View trailer, download PBS station airings August-September 2010, bios, and purchase a DVD of Every War Has Two Losers.

Also see PEACEFUL POETS: Filmmaker Haydn Reiss on Rumi and Stafford and the Power of Words and A Fascinating Approach to Peace.


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