Books CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 GB Challenges Poetry Poetry Friday Reading Themes War, Poetry, Refuge, Peace

[Poetry Friday] Alice Walker’s “Overcoming Speechlessness,” Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Blood” and “We Teach Life, Sir” by Rafeef Ziadah

Overcoming speechlessness ... through poetry

poetry friday

Myra here.

I am glad to be joining the Poetry Friday community once again, hosted this week by Laura Shovan from Author Amok.

My Poetry Friday offering is still in keeping with our current reading theme on War and Poetry which will conclude this week.


Watch out for our Book Hunting Expedition Post on Sunday for the launch of our new reading theme from September-October (til first week of November).


This very thin and tiny book by Alice Walker was powerful enough to give me nightmares. It is a 75-paged booklet that is more like a very long essay or treatise on a poet’s encounter of “the horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel.”

Reading this book reminded me of one of the very first research projects I was a part of on children who are survivors of various forms of abuse in the Philippines funded by Save the Children Foundation. The research team traveled to various parts of the Philippines to conduct interviews with children who are in conflict with the law, physically abused children, sexually exploited and abused girls, street kids, and so many more to document their narratives and understand it from the lenses of resilience and contextualization (indigenous approaches of helping the children cope with their struggles and anxieties).

In Overcoming Speechlessness, Alice Walker traveled to Gaza with the women’s peace group called CODEPINK, and also wrote about her experience visiting Rwanda and Eastern Congo three years before the publication of the book. Her intention is to provide voice to the voiceless, to share the narratives of women and children who are survivors of atrocities and borderline-barbaric savagery. This book is not for the weak of heart, as Walker’s voice, matter-of-fact yet plaintive, horrified yet determined to share what she has seen, will tear at one’s insides.

I don’t pretend to know everything about what is going on in Israel and Palestine or what happened in Rwanda and Eastern Congo. Walker’s reflections, however, managed to simplify the various struggles yet personalized them with heartbreaking narratives from the people she had the privilege to meet. It is indeed looking at war through a poet’s eyes – darkness and speechlessness all around, as when words or music fail. I have taken several pictures of lines that struck me and edited them using an iPhone app to share with you this week:

Glimpses of Kindness and Affection


A Great Sense of Overwhelm with Nothing To Say


We Will Be Heard


 I have here a poem written by Naomi Shihab Nye entitled “Blood.” It tore my heart to pieces reading it.

Blood by Naomi Shihab Nye


And finally, I have a powerful video clip of Rafeef Ziadah, a Canadian-Palestinian spoken word artist and activist, reciting her poem for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

“We Teach Life, Sir” by Rafeef Ziadah

Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters The Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel by Alice Walker. Published by Seven Stories Press, 2010. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me and edited using an iPhone app.



Reading Challenge Update: 208 (25)

17 comments on “[Poetry Friday] Alice Walker’s “Overcoming Speechlessness,” Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Blood” and “We Teach Life, Sir” by Rafeef Ziadah

  1. Becky Shillington

    Myra, I am so moved. One of the joys of Poetry Friday is discovering the variety of styles, traditions, and feelings within each author’s post. Reading this today brought that home again for me. The fun stuff is wonderful and mindful and necessary, but so is the hard and heartbreaking. Thank you so much for sharing these.


  2. I was thinking about what Alice Walker said about the Internet helping people find their voice and it made me especially sad for people in North Korea, who are denied this.
    One thing I especially like about Naomi Shihab Nye is that she seems very open to dialogue, warm-hearted, inclusive.


  3. Laura Shovan

    Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem captures the feeling of helplessness so many of us have when we talk about conflicts with deep histories. “This tragedy with a terrible root is too big for us” was the line that stuck with me most.


  4. These words you share are so powerful and so important. Thank you for broadening my awareness week after week, Myra. = )


  5. Wow. I was familiar with Nye and Walker’s work, but the power of Rafeef Ziadah’s poetry was overwhelming. Thank you, Myra. What came to mind, of course, is the ongoing conflict. When will things ever change?


  6. It is true that we are saddened, but the frustration to me is that I feel so helpless, even when supporting different causes, supporting through my vote, these tragedies of war continue. Thank you for sharing more of the power of poetry, Myra. “to provide voice to the voiceless” touched me profoundly.


  7. maryleehahn

    Heartbreaking. And important. Thank you.


  8. Powerful and moving.Thank you for sharing this moving poetry.


  9. Thank you for sharing the excerpts and poems. It is a difficult topic, hard and painful to read about, yet wholly necessary. Was especially moved by Ziadah’s spoken word poem.


  10. Wow – the richness of the words and the deepness of the tragedies give me pause…


  11. This July/August theme has been enlightening and so very important, Myra. Still, I do hope you’ll be able to sleep better soon.


  12. Pingback: [Poetry Friday] Alice Walker and Stefano Vitale Pair Up in “There Is a Flower at the Tip Of My Nose Smelling Me” | Gathering Books

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