Support for on being with Krista Tippett comes from the Fetzer Institute, helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Fatso's new study. What does spirituality mean to us? Reveals how spirituality informs our understanding of ourselves and each other and inspires us to take action for the common good. Explore these findings and more at spirituality study, Greg. It's pretty intriguing to follow Naomi Shehab, nice idea that most of us actually think in poems, whether we know it or not, what she recommends as a simple practice of writing explains the surprising power of what I know best from a long life of journaling.
The act of writing things down just helps. As she says, it can be a tool to survive in hard times or to anchor our days, but also to get into a more gracious community with ourselves, or rather with all of the selves that live on in each of us at any given moment. The child's self, your older self, your confused self yourself. That makes a lot of mistakes. Naomi Shihab Nye was long a self professed wandering poet.
Today, she's the young people's poet laureate of the Poetry Foundation, while also a professor of creative writing at Texas State University. And one poem she wrote called Kindness is held close by people around the world.
Before, you know, kindness is the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow is the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice catches the throat 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 gaze at bread.
Only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is you have been looking for and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow.
Or friend. I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Naomi Shehab, nice childhood unfolded between Ferguson, Missouri, near where her mother grew up and her father's Palestinian homeland. Our conversation in 2016 spoke to so much that is even more alive in the world now. I always start my interviews by inquiring about the religious or spiritual background of someone's childhood, and I just wonder where you'd start reflecting on what that was in your life?
Oh, I felt very lucky as a child to have open minded parents. And I knew they were open minded because they were unlike any other parents. I met my friend's parents. I also knew that they didn't practice the religions of their upbringings, either one of them. So this fascinated me as even a little child. And I would ask a lot of questions. There was no sense of a taboo subject. My father had not really had a difficult time telling his family that he didn't want to practice Islam.
He said, I will respect it, but I don't want to practice it. And they had accepted that. My mother's family, on the other hand, had been more hard hearted about her rejection of their German Lutheran Missouri Synod background.
Yeah, but this was something both of my parents could talk about with each other and with their children. You know that people are raised in all kinds of different ways. And if it doesn't feel meaningful to you, maybe you have to search more. You have to keep searching. And I was a religion major in college. So of course you were.
Yeah, because of my appetite for this topic.
And I was fascinated to study more about Zen Buddhism, which appealed to me very much from the beginning.
And it seems like you became a writer at a very young age. Right? You were like seven, six.
I was I was six when I started writing my own poems and seven when I started sending them out. And and just today, some students I was talking to in a Skype class in Kuwait, how much I love the modern world that we can do these things. I was with these students for two hours and I feel like I'm going to think about them for the rest of my life. But one young man asked me, how were you brave enough to do that?
What gave you the confidence? He said, I've been trying to run a publication here at our university campus and I can't get my friends to give me their writing. They're not brave enough. What gave you confidence? And I think just having, you know, that sense of voice while other people have done it, that's what we do. If you know words, if you compose, you might want to share them because they'll have a bigger life if you do that.
So, you know, I certainly wasn't thinking about a career. I just thought of myself as having a practice. You know, if you have a practice of writing, then you have a lot of pieces of paper on your desk and you could share them if you chose to.
And it seemed more exciting or illuminating to share them and see what happened next than to just keep them for myself.
Well, so I'm very interested in general in this question of, you know, what poetry works in us. But I think even that question itself, you know, hasn't held the implication that poetry is something separate, something distinct. But it seems that in your sensibility, you see it as very organic. I mean, there's I think it was in in some of your writing for poems by children, you said, I do think that all of us think and poems.
I do think that and I think that is very important and not feeling separate from text, feeling sort of your thoughts as text or the world as it passes through you as a kind of text, the story that you would be telling to yourself about this street, even as you walk down it or as you drive down it, as you look out the window, the story you would be telling. It always seemed very much to me as a child that I was living in a poem, that my life was the poem.
In fact, at this late date, I have started putting that on the board of any room I walk into that has a board. I just came back from Japan a month ago and every classroom I would just write on the board, you are living in a poem and then I would write other things just relating to whatever we were doing in that class. But I found the students very intrigued by discussing that, you know. What do you mean we're living in a poem or when all the time or just when someone talks about poetry.
And I'd say no. When you think when you're in a very quiet place, when you're remembering, when you're savoring an image, when you're allowing your mind calmly to leap from one thought to another, that's a poem. That's what a poem does. And they like that. And a girl, in fact, wrote me a note in Yokohama on the day that I was leaving her school that has come to be like the most significant note any student has written me in years.
She said, well, here in Japan, we have a concept called You Told Me. It is spaciousness, it's a kind of living with spaciousness, for example, like it's leaving early enough to get somewhere so that, you know, you're going to arrive early. So when you get there, you have time to look around or others. You have all these different definitions of what you thought he was to her. But one of them was an after you read a poem, just knowing you can hold it, you can be in that space of the poem and it can hold you in its space.
And you don't have to explain it. You don't have to paraphrase it. You just hold it and it allows you to see differently. And I just love that. I mean, I think that's what I've been trying to say all these years. I should have studied Japanese.
Maybe that's where all our ideas are Japanese. Well, well.
And so I do also think about your Arabic ancestry and and their reverence for poetry that is in those cultures. And yes, you talk a lot about your father and his reverence for the power of words and language. And, you know, and here's a way you, I feel, have appropriate that you say poetry is a form of conversation. And it seems to me that a lot of your poems are because they're holding a conversation or opening conversations that aren't actually happening out there in the culture or in the narrative of kind of how we're telling the story of our time.
I hope so. I really hope that is true and I think that the essence of a kind of exchange is what poetry is interested into. I mean, the feeling that you're not battered by thought in the poem, but you are sort of as if you're riding the wave of thought, as if you're allowing thought to enter your shifting. You're changing. You're looking, um, you are in a sensibility that allows you that sort of mental, emotional, spiritual interaction with everything around you.
I think it's very, very helpful for mental health, actually. I mean, I really wonder sometimes what it would be like to live without that apprehension, you know, that you could have a thought shape, a thought, change of thought. Look at the words in a thought that you could take a word and just sort of use that word. I think I said this like 40 years ago in a poem, use a single word as an or that could get you through the days just by holding a word, thinking about it differently and seeing how that word rubs against other words, how it interplays with other words.
You know, there's a luxury in that kind of thinking about language and text, but it's very basic as well. I mean, it's it's simple. It's invisible. It doesn't cost anything. Yeah.
So there's 19 varieties of Gazal was was just published after it was published after September 11th.
But some of the poems in it, I read it on September 11th, but the poems that related to the Middle East had been sort of scattered throughout my work somewhere in magazines, never had been in a book. But I felt at that moment it was important to to gather them together.
I mean, just the last I think these are the final lines or no. Yes. Before the postscript of the final stanza, the last one I call my father, we talk around the news. It is too much for him. Neither of his two languages can reach it. I drive into the country to find sheep, cows to plead with the air. Who calls anyone civilized? Where can the crying heart graze? What does a true Arab do now?
Right, I, I imagine that question by way of poetry. What is to Arab do now? That's a question that's been out there, I imagine in our culture for Arab Americans. It's this question. It's that we're dwelling with all of us collectively, but especially people and and especially people who cherish, you know, an awareness of of another culture, whoever they are. And I think that's why it's so strangely appealing these days to large numbers of people.
I don't know who they are. I don't understand where they're coming from to not to respect someone else's culture. If it doesn't, I'll look just like yours. And that's exactly the opposite of the way that I grew up in the way I like to think about the world. So in the way I feel like the majority of people would prefer to think about the world. You know, the minute you place yourself above, what does that do to others?
So, yes, I am horrified by the ease with which people may belittle one another these days as if that were a reasonable thing to do. I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today, I'm with the poet Naomi Shihab Nye. You also have this fascinating perspective of having like a let me get this right, you're your father.
You mostly grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, which if you ever heard of it, either right where your father landed after he his family emigrated eventually.
And so how long were you there until you were 12? Well, I lived in Ferguson till I was 14, 14 years. And I was born in Greater St. Louis, my mother's home place. My parents met in Kansas, but they moved out to Ferguson because it was sort of a little bedroom community to downtown St. Louis where my mother had grown up and and it had big trees and kids could go off on their bikes and ride around all day.
And, you know, there was a more rural quality to Ferguson. It's a wonderful little community. But there was a sense of separation, of course, in the 50s and early 60s. That is what we've seen. You know, the fruits of that come come to be over the years and to think that Ferguson is now a household word representing, you know, injustice is really shocking to those of us who grew up there that, you know, when you wrote this wonderful piece about growing up in Ferguson and then your family immigrated back to Palestine in 1966 for a little while and.
Right. And the echoes between those two places that you called home, the echoes between those two places and they're separated communities.
Right. That was a fascinating parallel. And so I couldn't resist writing that piece, just, you know, meditating on both places where they were in flames that same summer and the sorrow of injustice, you know, 2047, both of them, and the power struggles in both places. And I kept wishing my father were alive because I thought he would never believe that Ferguson has come into the international I am this way at the same time as the people of Palestine are also continuing to struggle.
So it's mysterious how these power structures unfold, isn't it, and how we're willing to accept them and allow them to prevail without questioning them. And something I've started saying over the past few years that kind of help me think about it is, you know, I have so many Jewish friends, both in the United States and other countries who would agree with with this. But the idea that there could not be a sort of alliance between big power countries like the United States and Israel Palestine, that was more equivalent.
Why do you have to have only one friend in the region? That's like the dark side of junior high and junior high. You learn that you could probably have two friends that are not exactly alike and you might survive. And in fact, you'd be a much more interesting person. Why couldn't the United States have two friends? Why couldn't they ask better questions?
My father was always saddened by the imbalance and as a journalist, he had to report on it so many times.
Yes. And and yet you always write about your father insisting on hope to the end. Yeah. Fiercely hopeful. Yeah. Because he said, what else do we have? I mean, if we're just going to give up and say, OK, we crumble, we have no more hope, we're victims were bitter. How much fun of a life is that going to be for anyone, for our children? You can't pass that down.
So yeah, he maintained a joyousness despite.
But, you know, here's another way. You've written about what I feel is kind of a philosophy behind your poetry. And and you wrote this again about in the aftermath of September 11th. But it applies to all these kinds of examples we've been talking about. You said, you know this since so many people had, that everything has changed. And you wrote of the necessity of really questioning and interrogating that feeling. And you wrote, We can continue to remind ourselves of what is important and try to live in ways nourishing for human beings and continue to nourish our ability to grow in our perceptions to more than we used to know, to empathize with distant situations and sorrows enjoys.
That doesn't have to change. Right.
There are just so many mysteries about, you know, people wanting to presume their pain has more of a reality than someone else's pain. And, you know, I think all the holy persons of all backgrounds and faiths have always called upon us to empathize in a more profound way, you know, to stretch our imaginations to what that other person might be experiencing. And it sounds so basic, but but these days, when you listen, you know, to the loud.
Voices, you wonder what's happened to that. What's happened to the. The awareness that we don't have to be vindictive and continue on in a cycle of revenge and violence, and every time Yoko Ono appears to have that full page in The New York Times, the war is over.
Now, I'm fascinated by that. You just I think well, I'd love to hear her talk about why she continues to do this, because we so much wish it were true. We'd like to be able to say, yes, it's true. I actually kept that postcard that said war is over in that same fight on my wall for years because I so much wanted to believe it. And yet you look at the world and it's not true and you think, you know, is this just is this manifest positive thinking?
Well, she say so. Here's what I think your contribution is. I mean, you look at the world in terms of headlines and you look at the world a certain way. And it's not true from a certain angle, from a certain direction.
It seems to me like one of the things you, again, like what is poetry, which puts poetry plays. I mean, it seems like one of the things you draw out is, you know, just noticing, paying a different kind of attention to things that are not quite as a parent to the eye. I mean, starting with love, this poem. And in what book was it? Please describe how you became a writer. Oh, right.
Yeah. Do you know that do you have it by heart?
I have it right here. OK, would you like me to read it. Yes. It's very short. Yeah. A. Please describe how you became a writer, possibly I began writing as a refuge from our insulting first grade textbook. Come, Jane, come look, Dick, look, were there ever duller people in the world? You had to tell them to look at things. Why weren't they looking to begin with? That was actually written after, you know, some students wrote me a survey about being a writer and that was the first question on their survey.
And so I just wrote them that and I thought, I like this by. This is good. And it's true, too. Yeah.
And right. And so so I think you unfold that on different levels. I mean, somewhere you talk about being a seven year old poet, making petite discoveries. I love that phrase. And again, like noticing. Right. Writing. I like the word fitchett. Oh, it's love. And like, you know, there's a poem you wrote about an onion. You know, I couldn't kneel and praise all small, forgotten miracles, crackly paper peeling on the drain word pearly layers and smooth agreement.
The way a knife enters onion and onion falls apart on the chopping block, a history revealed.
I mean, this is a way again, we're talking about poetry, but we're also talking about a way of moving through the world.
Mm. Thank you for noticing that. But I think of something in an essay from from William Merwin, and he's lived in many places in his life. He lived in France, England, Mexico, Pennsylvania as a child. But he has a line where he says, I learned from my neighbors everything they would tell me. And I think that sort of appetite for knowing that curiosity, what grows here? What do we need to do? How can we improve the soil?
That's the way that he lived his whole life. And I think that's what poetry does for our places.
Wherever we are new, it allows us to cherish what we're given to countries.
Skin remembers how long the years grow when skin is not touched. A grey tunnel of singleness feather lost from the tail of a bird swirling onto a step swept away by someone who never saw it was a feather skin. Eight walked, slept by itself, knew how to raise a see you later and but skin felt it was never seen never known as a land on the map knows like a city hip, like a city gleaming dome of the mosque in the hundred corridors of cinnamon and Ropen skin had hope.
That's what skin does. Heals over the scarred place makes a road. Love means you breathe in to countries and skin remembers silk spiny grass deep in the pocket that is skin secret own. Even now, when skin is not alone, it remembers being alone and thinks something larger. That there are travelers, that people go places larger than themselves. After a short break, more with Naomi Shihab Nye. I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today, I'm with the poet and teacher Naomi Shihab Nye.
I know your poem kindness has been really important for many people. It's interesting. Would you kind of tell because the back story to that poem doesn't sound like the circumstances under which you would write a poem about kindness. And I said, I'd love for you to just tell that story now and then maybe read it also.
I really feel amongst all my poems that this was a poem that was given to me. I was simply the secretary for the poem. I wrote it down, but I honestly felt as if it were a female voice speaking in the air across a plaza on Columbia. And my husband and I were on our honeymoon. We had just gotten married one week before here in Texas, and we had this plan to travel in South America for three months. And at the end of our first week, we were robbed of everything and someone else who was on the bus with us was killed.
And he's the Indian in the in the poem. And it was quite a shake up of an experience. And what do you do now? We didn't have passports. We didn't have money. We didn't have anything. What should we do first? Where do we go? Who do we talk to? You and a man came up to us on the street and was simply kind and just looked at us, I guess could see our disarray in our faces and just asked us in Spanish, you know, what happened to you?
And we tried to tell him and he listened to us and he looked so sad and he said, I'm very sorry. I'm very, very sorry. That happened in Spanish.
And he went on and then we went to this little plaza and I sat down and all I had was the notebook in my back pocket and pencil and and my husband was going to hitchhike off to college, a larger city to see about, you know, getting traveler's checks reinstated. Remember those archaic things? Travelers. Travelers. Yeah, I haven't seen one in years.
And so this was also a little worrisome to us because, you know, suddenly we were going to split up. I was going to stay here and he was going to go there. And as I sat there alone in a bit of a panic, like coming on, trying to figure out what I was going to do next. This voice came across the plaza and spoke this poem to me, spoke it, and I wrote it down. I was just the scribe.
So did you want me to read it as I love for you to read it.
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 gaze at Brad. Only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I have been looking for and then goes with you everywhere, like a shadow or a friend. Hmm. One thing I've I've tried to say to groups over the years, groups of all ages, is that, you know, writing things down, whatever you're writing down, even if you're writing something sad or hard, usually you feel better after you do it.
Somehow you're given a sense of, OK, this this mood, this sorrow I'm feeling, this trouble I'm in. I've given it shape. It's got a shape on the page now so I can stand back. I can look at it, I can think about it a little differently. What do I do now? And very rarely do you hear anyone say they write things down and feel worse.
They always say that I wrote things down. You know, this isn't quite finished. I need to work on it.
But they agree that it helped them sort of see their experience, see what they were living. And that's definitely a gift of writing that is above and beyond, you know, any sort of vocational you know, how much somebody publishes. It's an act that helps you, preserves you, energizes you in the very doing of it.
And actually, I interviewed Mary Oliver last year and she said and by the way, she also described the poem Wild Geese, not as a voice coming to her, but basically as something that was just given. And she said there are maybe two or three, but that one, she wasn't even thinking. But that's beautiful.
And that poem is so important is like kindness.
It's a poem that saves lives. It's a poem that it's a it becomes like an emblem poem people. Right. Yeah.
Is and that. But she always carries a notebook. Right. I mean that's one of her trademarks. And she said to me, you know, if you don't have a notebook, you know, you don't get it again. You have to write things down as they come. That's right. And so I've started carrying a notebook again after twenty years. I think that's great. And and you can carry one at any age. You're never too old to start carrying it out.
But yeah, last week I was in a classroom in Austin, Texas, where a girl who was apparently going through a really rough spell at home wrote a poem that was definitely tragic and comic, both about kind of everybody was yelling at her in the poem, like from all directions. She was just kind of suffering in her homeplace and trying to find peace, trying to find a place to do her homework. But she wrote this in such a compelling way that when she read it and read it with gusto and and joy, there were such joyousness in her voice.
Even though she was describing something that sounded awful when she finished, the girls in her classroom just broke into wild applause. And I saw her face.
She lit up and she said, yeah, I feel better. And I thought, yeah, that's this is such a graphic example of putting words on the page.
That feeling of of being connected to someone else when you allow yourself to be very particular is another mystery of writing.
I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today, I'm with the poet Naomi Shihab Nye.
Just looking at amazed me, this book that you did, poems for girls, which actually echoes what you just said.
You say if you have many voices and let them speak to one another in a friendly fashion, if you're not too proud to talk to yourself out loud, if you will ask the questions pressing against your forehead from the inside, you'll be OK if you write three lines down in a notebook every day and then in parentheses, they don't have to be great or important. They don't have to relate to one another. You don't have to show them to anyone.
You will find out what you notice. Uncanny connections will be made visible to you. That's what I started learning when I was 12 and I never stopped learning it. Right.
And, you know, I think many people are encouraged to think you could write that little and still gain something from it.
Yeah, you know that you don't have to be spending an hour and a half to three hours to five hours a day writing to have a meaningful experience with it. It's a very immediate experience. You can sit down and write three sentences. How long does that take?
Three minutes, five minutes and be giving yourself a very rare gift of listening to yourself. You know, just finding out when you go back and look at what you wrote and how many times we think, oh, I would never have remembered that if I hadn't written this or when. And how did that even occur to me? I sort of like it this week and it could help me. And now I know I want to connect it to something else.
Everybody finds that out and, you know, just to encourage others to do it without a big, massive goal in front of them at all times.
You've said that you you read your son to sleep and you also read him awake. I did. So what would you do?
You'd go in and sit by his bed?
Well, you know, when he was around 13, he said, Mom, you don't have to read to me anymore. I can read for myself. And I said, yeah, I know all your all the other parents I know stopped when their kids were like eight or nine.
I'm still reading to you, but he was sweet and gracious about it. And we did like that reading time at bedtime. And so I paused for a while, maybe a year. I wasn't reading to him. And and then this farmer showed up in Oklahoma at a workshop and told us all that he had come just to listen. He just wanted to hear everyone read their work. And we thought, wow, look at this. The wandering audience, he doesn't even want to participate.
He just wants to listen. And he said, no, listening is participation. It's very important. And he talked about being a child and being awakened every day by his granddad, who read to the kids in the house as a wake up call every morning, stood in the hallway outside their bedrooms and read poems. And my brain clicked.
I thought, this is what I'll do for the rest of the time. Our son is at home. Oh, waking him every day with big poems. So we did that for years and I think he really liked it.
And now people I read a lot were people like Robert Bly, Lucille Clifton, Frank O'Hara, for some reason, Chinese poems, Japanese poems.
And we would occasionally talk about the poems. Later in the day. He'd bring something up about one of the poems I'd read and, you know, but I never did it so that we could have a particular conversation. I just did it because, you know, all parents have a moment of the day when you need to get your kid up if they haven't gotten up already and most kids like to loiter in the bed there.
So it was a pleasure to me to hear poems in the air first thing in the morning, be sending them to, you know, our beloved son. And hopefully he'll do that to his son, who turns one month old tomorrow.
Wow. Yeah, I like that, too, because as much as my my my kids are also great big now. But as any kind of lovely memories as I have of reading at the end of the day, you're so tired at the end of the day and it's a nice I did think about reading and poetry starting the day when you're fresh and when you would take it with you.
It's beautiful, it feels beautiful and you feel better. You, the reader, feel better. There are also so many other places where this could be appropriate. I met a school principal some years ago and he said to me, Oh, I've always loved poetry, but I can't really use it because I'm just the principal. I said, What are you talking about? Where's is the intercom in your school? He said, It's in my office. I said, OK, well, do you have announcements?
Yes, every morning. Why don't you read a poem to start off the day for the entire school? And, you know, I sort of forgot about this encounter with him. And a couple of years later, I went to that school and I thought, wow, I don't know what's going on in the school. I had forgotten that that's where he was. But these kids love poetry.
And finally, one of them said to me, well, the announcements every day our principal reads us a poem. And so we you know, we carry poems with us every day. We have them in our heads. And one thing interesting was he seemed to have needed a little push since he didn't see himself as a poet, that it would be OK for him to read a. Well, why not? And also he needed a little push that he didn't have to read the whole poem, like if you wanted to read just a stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson or just, you know, here's a stanza from Walt Whitman that that was OK.
You didn't have to read the entire poem if you didn't have time. He liked that. But I think he just needed the encouragement. Mm hmm.
You know, before we draw too close and also hear some more of your poems, I, I want to touch a little bit on your father. Again, just on this matter of refugees, which is so resonant now in the world, it is in a new, desperate way.
Well, first of all, there's the opening page of Transfer where you you're kind of dedicating the book to your father, but you.
The passage that starts refugees, not always. Yes, refugee, not always. Once a confident schoolboy strolling Jerusalem's streets, he knew the alleyways, spoke to stones all his life. He would pick up stones and pocket them on some. He drew faces. What do we say in the wake of one who was always homesick, are you home now? Is Palestine peaceful in some dimension we can't see? Do Jews and Arabs share the table is holy in the middle, you know, and I think many times the way immigrants people look at immigrants with such a a sense of diminishment as if this person is less than I am because they've left their country.
Well, I actually think they're more than we are because they're braver. They've gone some other place. They have to operate in another language. How easy would that be? You know, if I had to go to China today and start living in China and doing everything in Chinese, it would be very, very hard. So you think about the bravery of these people and and the desperation with which they're trying to to find a realm of safety for their families.
And, you know, just the basic safety that we take for granted every day we get up. And I don't know I don't know how how a world with so many resources and so many religious traditions and good hopes, how we can keep doing these things to one another in the world that create refugee populations. I mean, it just seems outrageous. Why is that happening so much? Yeah, I think that's another one of those questions we have to sit with, if you can.
Yeah. I mean, here is just some lines from the history poem and that book transfer. We were born to wander, to grieve, lost lineage, what we did to one another on a planet so wide open for doing so wide open. So much we could do. Always, yeah. So many surprising moves a person, a country could make that might be imaginative, that might, you know, encourage positive behavior instead of negative.
Yeah, yeah. And I don't know, maybe the magnitude of this moment forces us to rise to the occasion.
Well, human beings do that every once in a while, too. I hope so.
Yeah, I hope so. And I hope that mysterious rising to one's better self, which was a concept that really perplexed me as a child, my mother would say, especially if I'd been in some kind of mischief at school, which occasionally happened because I wasn't always focused on Jack and before.
And Jane. Jane, yeah. The boy, Dick and Jane, I was trying to get away from them all the time. And so I would get in a little trouble. And and my mother would say to me, you know, her charged me be your best self. And I don't think, wow, what is that self? Where is it? Where is it tucked away? Where do I keep it when I'm not being it? And are you your best self is my teacher her best self.
And, you know, that was just something intriguing to me, that we had more than one self that we could operate out of. And I think one nice thing about writing is that you get to encounter you get to meet these other selves which continue on in your child's self, your older self. You're confused self, your self. That makes a lot of mistakes, you know, and find some gracious way to have a community in there inside that would would help you survive.
Yeah, that poetry is conversation. That's right. Writing is a way of having conversation between those different selves inside you. Yes. That's nice.
I think so. Um, and that's a big thing. I mean, that's not to be underestimated, that it's important to do that.
You know, you write about so many places you go and that the word gravity is important to you. And I it seems to me it's a big word for you. And it seems to me it's often related to a sense of place. I mean, I don't think it's always just about place. But how would you what does that mean in your imagination? You know, my father felt like a wanderer, like he was always, you know, wandering around and and I always felt like a wanderer that that we have so many places we could explore and learn about.
But I think you can feel all kinds of gravity, you know, wherever you are every day in different ways. And and often through human contact, you find your best gravity, you know, a real conversation with someone. Just a simple, simple exchange of words can give you a sense of gravity. I've always loved the the definition for contemplation, a long, loving look. And when you take a long loving look anywhere, you feel sort of more bonded with whatever you've looked at and you feel as if, you know, you recognize it, you see it, maybe it sees you back and and you're participating like in a world where it exists.
And so feeling that sense of gravity and belonging everywhere is very important to me.
That's what you do.
I think you cleave a kind of global passport, I guess it might be. And this young woman in Kuwait this morning on the Skype class I did she was saying that she was Palestinian, had never been to Palestine, born in Jordan, had never seen Jordan, was taken to Kuwait as a baby and raised in Kuwait. Now, she was a college senior and she said in and I don't belong to any of these places. And I feel so like adrift and I'm not accepted in any of these places.
And I said, you know, my hope for you would would be that you could find a way to live, a way to be a voice to use where you feel at home in all of them. And I think there is a way to do that. You know, as readers and writers, we find a certain home in books and language and literature, like I hear of Mary Oliver poem. And it's as if I've been her neighbor because I've read so many different things.
Yeah. Even though I've never spent a day in her town, maybe one day sometime. But so we abide with one another. We find through images ways to be together. So my hope for that girl was not that she would feel, you know, alienated forever from all her places, but that she could find a way to be so much herself and let those parts of herself continue the dialogue through writing or through whatever she chooses to do. But I do think writing would really help in her case, would help her, you know, to feel an identity.
So. So you were your refuge, your Palestinian refugee father. You know, you you say and this comes through over and over again. But as you wrote about him after he died, you see, he loved the world. The world frustrated him endlessly, but he loved it and he hoped for it. Yeah. You know, there's this beautiful line. He never gave up hope. Everything depends. It on mutual respect, the sadness of my father was a land mass underwater.
I want to ask you about the substance of hope for you.
Oh, thank you for for asking that. You know, right now, living in Texas, it's spring and everything is bursting forth. I mean, things we had even forgotten. We planted things we don't remember the derivation of where did that come from? All these things are popping up and bursting open and the air smells very sweet with this wonderful tree we have down here called Mt. Laurel. And there's kind of an intoxicating feeling of of spring opens up like all these flowers open their faces to the sky.
And and then we have the amazing fields and fields and miles and miles of wildflowers in Texas. And just that that sense of return, restoration energy coming back out of the soil. And so I think, you know, the the gift of of daily life, which is our treasure, as long as we live, hopefully there are days with all the simple tasks and errands to be fulfilled, but also moments of apprehension that are greater than those tasks and errands or moments of apprehension that come through those tasks.
And, you know, people used to ask me a lot when I was younger. Why do you write about common things normal, like regular little things? And I said, well, what do you have in your life? I mean, I'm not living like in Star Trek. I have common things in my life. What else do I have?
Yeah, but I don't think that the things are themselves common. You know, I think I think it's a miracle that that anything works. You know, I think about the miracle of plumbing a lot and all the mysteries we don't see under the soil, the pipes, the wires, the wireless connections. Now, I mean, just thinking about everything that's going on, kind of like when you're a child fascinated by all the stuff that's going on inside your body and you didn't have to tell it to do that.
Like I used to think my stomach is mine. I'm digesting right now. I didn't have to tell it to do that. It just did it. That's incredible. Or the heart beating or the blood rolling through the veins and you think, wow, you know, all this stuff goes on. That's not commonplace to me. That's miraculous. It's amazing. And. So writing is a way that we're continually, continuously restored to that and reading other people's work being restored to that, how could you ever feel too old or too dull in a world like that?
Naomi Shihab Nye is the young people's poet laureate through the Poetry Foundation and professor of creative writing at Texas State University. Her books include Castaway The Tiny Journalist and Amaze Me Poems for Girls. Her newest book is Everything Comes Next Collected and New Poems. Find all the poems she read this hour and so much more at the Experience Poetry Page at On Being Dug Crossed.
That line is an important poem to me because I loved Paul Robeson so much as a child. I loved his voice. We have a record of him singing and you know, I wouldn't read his biography till I was an adult and know about what he suffered as a so-called communist and how his passport was taken away from him. And he was not allowed to leave the nation, though he had a huge fan club in Europe and elsewhere. So I thought this was so funny when he did this.
And I now own a CD of this concert.
Really? Yeah, someone sent it to me. That is some archival recording.
Pretty amazing. Cross that line. Paul Robeson stood on the northern border of the USA and sang into Canada, where a vast audience sat on folding chairs waiting to hear him. He sang into Canada. His voice left the USA when his body was not allowed to cross that line. Remind us again, brave friend, what countries may we sing into? What lines should we all be crossing?
What songs travel toward us from far away to deepen our days?
Beyond Being Project is located on DeCota land, our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoe Keating. And the last voice that you hear singing at the end of our show is Cameron Kinghorn. On Being is an independent non-profit production of the NBN project. It is distributed to public radio stations by WNYC Studios. I created the show at American Public Media. Are funding partners include the Fetzer Institute helping to build the Spiritual Foundation for a Loving World. Find them at Fetzer Dawg Calliope, a foundation dedicated to reconnecting ecology, culture and spirituality, supporting organizations and initiatives that uphold a sacred relationship with life on Earth.
Learn more at Calliope Dog, the Osprey Foundation, a catalyst for empowered, healthy and fulfilled lives. The Charles Koch Institute's courageous collaboration's initiative, discovering and elevating tools to cure intolerance and bridge differences. The Lilly Endowment and Indianapolis based Private Family Foundation, dedicated to its founders interests in religion, community development and education, and the Ford Foundation working to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement worldwide. On Being is produced by our studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota.