Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review: 19 Varieties of Gazelle by Naomi Shihab Nye


In celebration of National Poetry Month, how could I not write a review of my favorite book of poems?


"Fowzi, who beats everyone at dominoes; Ibtisam, who wanted to be a doctor; Abu Mahmoud, who knows every eggplant and peach in his West Bank garden; mysterious Uncle Mohammed, who moved to the mountain; a girl in a red sweater dangling a book bag; children in velvet dresses who haunt the candy bowl at the party; Baba Kamalyari, age 71; Mr. Dajani and his swans; Sitti Khadra, who never lost her peace inside.

"Maybe they have something to tell us.

"Naomi Shihab Nye has been writing about being Arab-American, about Jerusalem, about the West Bank, about family all her life."


19 Varieties of Gazelle, was released in 2002, months after the attack on the World Trade Center. The collection is clearly close to the heart of poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who was born to a Palestinian immigrant and grew up in both San Antonio, Texas, and the Old City in Jerusalem.

I cannot state it more clearly: I love this book of poems. It's the book I keep on my nightstand and read morsel by morsel in stolen moments when I can stand to have my heart broken and seek to have my spirit lifted by the nobility of day-to-day human existence. These sixty poems are simple and profound. They draw tears from me and put my heart in my throat every time I read them. The words, the images bring people of a far-away culture right into the room with me, and they are not alien but familiar, not "those people" on the other side of the planet, but neighbors. Each poem is a snapshot that shows you details that you wouldn't have seen otherwise. And suddenly the barriers are gone.

It's no wonder that this remarkable collection was a National Book Award Finalist. I love poet William Stafford's statement that "reading her work enhances life." Yes, that's it exactly.

I give a blazing five magic wands to Nye's 19 Varieties of Gazelle:

(some of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to Seeds of Peace)


No comments: