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Collecting and Responding to Poetry with Naomi Shihab Nye

Posted on Aug 9, 2011 by

Naomi Shihab Nye Photo

A video arrived in my email box a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of The Academy of American Poets:


One excerpt in particular strikes me:

I can never imagine how someone would fall in love with poetry and stop reading poems. But I think that people often talk themselves out of a bit of responding, which I also think is as important as collecting. We collect poems that encourage us to think in a way we need to think, or look at the world. But then we also allow ourselves—whatever our circumstances, or whatever our past history with writing—to write a little bit.

I love that. The importance of collecting. But then to take it the next step. To write a little. To allow ourselves to write a little. Whatever our circumstances. I think something happens when we write in response to a poem—at least I’ve noticed this in myself. For one thing, I read the poem more carefully. I begin to hear the words and rhythms of it inside my head. The poem becomes more a part of me.

I think there are a number of ways that we get “talked out” of responding to poetry. Sometimes we’ve had bad experiences with this in the past (and mostly with teachers, I’m afraid). Sometimes we think the experts own it—or that we could never know enough to respond.

But we do know enough. My high school students, for instance, know enough. I know enough. We all do. At the very least, we each contain a storehouse of experiences and perceptions (we’re the expert on those) and we know enough to begin to make connections from the poem to this storehouse. Or we know enough to begin to make connections to other poems—or to books or movies or to a fragment of overheard conversation. We know enough to ask questions. To wonder about a poem. To speculate. I wonder what she was thinking when she wrote this. I wonder what she was feeling. I wonder who she had in mind as she was writing.  I wonder why I chose to collect this poem.

I think something powerful can happen when we begin to collect and respond to poetry. When we begin to keep notebooks—or folders with scraps of paper. When we begin to intercalate our own words between and among the words of the poets.

And then when we begin to share these.

See also:

A Secret About What A Poem Can Do to Us.  A piece about Michelle Bloom’s song, Last Night As I Was Sleeping, which shows what can be created out of a response to a poem.

The Academy of American Poets