Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Paper Book, 1995





Portland, Or. : Eighth Mountain Press, 1995.


A collection of poems in which the author draws upon her experiences as a Palestinian-American living in the Southwest, and her travels in Central America, the Middle East, and Asia, to comment upon the shared humanity of different cultures throughout the world.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Erin_Boyington
My VOYA: 4Q, 3P

I read:
"Negotiations with a Volcano" - a lovely poem about human vulnerability, and the ways we attempt to bargain in the face of an indifferent power.
"Remembered" - I would compare the theme of this poem to Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias". A man gives away his possessions in the
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possibly futile hope of being remembered after his death.
"The Whole Self" - A meditation on selfhood and the ways we define it - and attempt to escape it.
"Grandfather's Heaven" - Remembering her grandfather's two-dimensional ("up or down") view of religion, very different from her own.
"The Little Brother Poem" - Memories of a difficult relationship with an absent brother.
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LibraryThing member breeankay
4Q, 3P
Nye's poetry ties together multiple cultures with our shared human experience. Maybe its easy to be critical of poetry because of its inaccessibility but Nye's poems are remarkably accessible and I'd like to think there is something for everyone here (including teens). I especially like the
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longer poems that tell stories. Some of my favorites are "The Words Under the Words", "French Movies", and "One Island". (Hard to pick just a few).
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LibraryThing member Thea-Ploetz
Words Under the Words: Selected Poems brings together poems from three of Naomi Nye’s previous collections. Nye’s poems take readers on the journey from regret to overflowing happiness to celebration of cultural identity. The entire range of human emotions seems to be in the words under these
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words. Perhaps what resonates most is Nye’s ability to take what many would perceive as ordinary, uninspiring moments, and amplify them to reveal emotional and metaphorical significance. In “Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change,” Nye takes an idle conversation about the arrival of a train and turns it into a reflection on change and contextual significance. This set of poetry might appeal to teens interested in poems with a blend of lyric and narrative content, as well as an examination of some of the heavier topics teens are learning to grapple with.

4P, 5Q
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LibraryThing member JudyCroome
Beautiful lyrical poems about a range of topics, many filled with a mysterious poignancy that clutches at the emotions even if the meaning is somewhat obscure at times. These poems entice one to read them again and again. They hint at secrets waiting to be unearthed from the rich words they're
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planted in.

A worthwhile collection from Palestinian-American poet Naomi Nye.
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
Judging a book by its cover does you little good with this poetry collection, Words Under the Words, as the older woman on the cover is not the Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, but her grandmother who died at 106 back in 1994. For years I would see the book and wonder just how old is
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that poet. Instead, this collection of her selected poetry (drawn from her three previous books) is vibrant and very much alive. She currently lives in Texas, travels the world, and creates poetry that shows well how we share a common humanity with her beautifully insightful poetry. William Stafford says the following about Nye, “She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life.”

I find her writing to be very accessible and easy to relate to. The following are some lines that spoke to me from some of her poems.

"What makes a man with a gun seem bigger
than a man with almonds?"

“A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.”

“Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched”

“Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.”

“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 the same Shah who commanded thousands
to build the Taj Mahal could later be jailed for life
by a single son is something to think about
during the endless Indian nights.”
[The Shah had the hands of the key masons cut off, so that they wouldn’t ever build anything to rival it.]

Naomi Shihab Nye is an important voice who crosses cultural divides both internationally and within the United States. For all that she brings to her poetry, it always remains clear, smart, and compassionate. She has now joined the group of my favorite poets that I’m always watching for anything new. If you haven’t read her, know that her writing is a reward waiting for you.
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