[Poetry Friday] Rubbing Poems in One’s Skin in Naomi Shihab Nye’s “The Tree Is Older Than You Are”

poetry friday

Myra here.

I am glad to be joining the Poetry Friday community, hosted this week by the indefatigable Sylvia Vardell of Poetry for Children.

We are excited to launch our reading theme this May-June: The Universal Republic of Childhood.

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I am glad that this book I chanced upon at my institution’s library seems to be the perfect opening for the connectedness that words bring and the universality of the human experience as captured through poetry.

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The Tree Is Older Than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering Of Poems and Stories from Mexico With Paintings by Mexican Artists

Selected byNaomi Shihab Nye
Published by: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1998 ISBN: 0689820879 (ISBN13: 9780689820878). Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

I think I must have borrowed practically all of Naomi Shihab Nye’s books that I could get my hands on. There is something about her truths spoken in verse that speak to me. Her selected poems in this book are likewise interwoven with colourful and largely-surreal paintings created by renowned Mexican artists. I was particularly intrigued by this anthology, since I am deeply aware that Naomi is Palestinian-American. Why Mexico? Her Introduction to this book provided answers and also showed me how this is the perfect book to open our reading theme on the Universal Republic of Childhood:

A Mexican artist friend says Mexico has always been a country of the spirit, a country where miracles feel close and possible, a country of passionate color and deep ties. In these days when “trade” is an amplified word, with the images of appliances and factories and skills flying back and forth across a border, I prefer to imagine cultures trading invisible riches. The stories and songs and ripe images of Mexico are a gift to our lives and hearts.

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Now I live in one of the most Mexican of U. S. cities, in an inner-city neighborhood where no dinner table feels complete without a dish of salsa for gravity, and the soft air hums its double tongue. For some, this may not qualify me to gather writings of a culture not in my blood. I suggest that blood be bigger than what we’re born with, that blood keep growing and growing as we live; otherwise how will we become true citizens of the world? For twenty years, working as a visiting writer in dozens of schools in my city and elsewhere, I have carried poems by writers of many cultures into classrooms, feeling the large family of voices linking human experience. We have no borders when we read. (p. 7)

As I read this, I felt that she has seen through my soul – the quiet sense of the universe residing in each one of us – and how words humming in book leaves unite the readers of the world with a shared thought and an intermingling of phrases, singing the same song of rustling secrets wrapped in green.

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The 111-paged book is divided into two major sections: (1) People: “Rub the Leaves In Your Hands” and (2) Earth and Animals: “Impulse and Roots.” While not all of the poems spoke to me – I did not particularly resonate with the short folk tales or the vignettes that seemed circuitous and pointless – there were a few that made me gasp out loud. Naturally, I picked out a few of the best to share here with you. I took a photo of the page and edited it using an iPhone app – to further enhance your experience with the poems (at least, I hope so).

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I wonder what would appear on your page, in place of a point?

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I was taken by the image of a day leaving physical residues – never to return again.

And of course, there were quite a few poems by Octavio Paz. Here are two that made me hyperventilate:

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Here’s to wading deep into the beach of one’s soul and tasting poems in one’s skin. Which of the poems resonated with you?

  1. What a lovely collection of poems, Myra – especially “Water Night”. Love these lines:
    And if you close your eyes,
    a river fills you from within.

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  2. Thanks for spotlighting this book — will have to look for it. I love Nye’s poems and would of course appreciate any collection that she’s edited. Nice to read Paz’s work today. Love the Poet Pencil too!

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  3. And, water runs through three of them, interesting, Myra. I do love Nye, have several, but The Flog of Childhood is one that my students returned to. I love The Poet’s Pencil! Thank you.

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  4. I was struck by these beautiful poems, and this thoughtful bit: “For twenty years … I have carried poems by writers of many cultures into classrooms, feeling the large family of voices linking human experience. We have no borders when we read. (p. 7)”

    Thank you for this beautiful post!

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  5. Thank you for joining the Poetry Friday gathering this week and for showcasing one of my favorite books too! I absolutely adore all of Naomi’s work and her anthologies of poetry by writers from around the world are particularly wonderful!

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  6. Here is a found poem:

    I felt that she has seen through my soul –
    the quiet sense of the universe residing in each one of us –
    and how words humming in book leaves
    unite the readers of the world
    with a shared thought
    and an intermingling of phrases, singing
    the same song of rustling secrets
    wrapped in green.

    Like

    Reply

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