Art and Storytelling · Art As Conversation

Focus on Loving the Craft

Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye was the guest reader at Gannon University‘s (where I teach) English Awards night recently. Like most poets, she shared anecdotes between each poem. But she didn’t change her posture or the tone of her voice to ready herself or establish a boundary between her life and her poetry. What pause there was seemed natural, like the pause your uncle takes before telling another story at your family reunion. One hardly knew where her storytelling stopped and her poetry reading began. She extended her personality through her creative work, both through her products (her poems) and the process of reading them.

I approached her afterwards at the book table and shared my observations. She said, “You know, I’ve been criticized for that.” I said, “You don’t adopt a different persona to read like so many poets do. How you read pulled me into the poem because you’ve established a personal relationship with me.” She put her hand out, “That means we’re friends.” I took it and replied, “That could be dangerous, you know.” We laughed.

I’m sure Naomi Shihab Nye, throughout her illustrious career and worldwide travels, has shaken lots of hands and laughed with many fans. But in that brief drop of time, both during her reading and our chat afterwards, I learned about a means of self expression that isn’t narrowly narcissistic. Naomi’s self expression extended a hand to touch an audience.  She extended her artist’s personality into and through her creative work.  The highest form of “self expression” focuses on the craft, not the artist, because the artist is lost in her love of the craft.

Naomi Shihab Nye loved her craft more than she loved herself.

That’s the kind of “self expression” I can emulate.

5 thoughts on “Focus on Loving the Craft

  1. “Narcissistic? If it reached an audience (and it did), I would say no!” Amen! That’s what I was thinking the whole time, F-words and all. The sounds, the in-your-face images, the rhythms. It was great. I found myself feeling jealous of those young (true) poets up there in front of the world and dishing it out. A feast!

  2. Don, thanks for taking the time to comment. What a great opportunity to hear personally some of the “greats!” I would’ve liked to have experienced, along with you, those young men being creative with the spoken word. (I’m sure you “mature” poets held your own!) But you’re right, performance poetry is a whole ‘nother thing. Narcissistic? If it reached an audience (and it did), I would say no!

  3. I attended a local poetry reading here in Central Florida at which I and other “mature” poets read. During this event, several young men entered the facility (in the case a small cafe) with their iPads and small laptops and, at the end of our evening, treated us to their own slam performances, standing and scrolling with their digital screens. I was frankly riveted. Aside from having to sort through the high F-word count, I was transported back to Santa Barbara, California, in 1970 where I was likewise riveted by Bukowski and Ginsberg who were among the greats of “performing” poets. I wanted to “howl” all over again. I was so excited to hear and see these young poets taking sound and personality (was it narcissistic?) and with their brash confidence splashing it in our faces. Wonderful! Performance poetry is indeed another animal.

  4. This posting is beautiful. What a gift you have to get so much out of that encounter. I “heard” you on a level that is so deep I have no words for it. It seems the poet (Ms. Nye) is comfortable with her self and able to share in more than one way. Thanks for sharing this. It was a gift to me that you did so.

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