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Visiting Writers Series Comes to a Close

Students, faculty, and poetry enthusiasts gathered in Pollak Theatre last Tuesday, to hear the last installment of the Visiting Writer Series, Naomi Shihab Nye.

With an introduction by Michael Thomas, Director of the Visiting Writers Series and Assistant Dean of the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences, he explained a poem of hers, “Kindness.” He then mentioned how one writer said Nye “breathes poetry, like the rest of us breathe air.”

As Nye graced the stage after Thomas’s “incredibly elegant” introduction, she joked that Thomas should do the readings as the audience chuckled.

She discussed the beauty that she found at the University, and the impressive architecture of Wilson Hall, naming it, “one of the great buildings on any campus in the world.”

With a quick thank you to the audience for coming out to spend an afternoon together in poetry month, Nye moved onto a poem given to her by a four-year-old when she was in Princeton just last week called, “The Sun.” She spoke of its simple beauty and quickly moved to her metaphor of the poem being an elegant building on a page.

She described poetry as something that she wanted to always be with, she wanted to savor it. As a child, she would listen to poetry and beg her teachers and librarians to often repeat them so she could be with them longer; she wanted to be with the lines of the poem.

Nye then moved onto her book, Transfer, written with her father in mind. She read a poem that she forgot to include in the book during her writing process titled, “My Father on Dialysis.” With emotion, she read and later explained to the audience about a time she connected with a student through understanding of experience.

Something consistent in her reading was that of her father’s influence. Her father always urged people to read newspapers and analyze them for thought. She took this advice and read a New York Times article about Afghanistan, where she re-arranged the lines and formed a poem from them.

Nye spoke emotionally about Syria, Palestine and other countries. She was animated in reading a poem called, “A Few Questions for Bashar Assad in 2012,” in which the last line of the poem was, “Is it still flowing, do you know?” The audience applauded.

A large majority of what Nye spoke about dealt with representations of culture.

She discussed her father’s notebooks and about a specific poem, “A Kansas Teacher Called Me Muscle Man (Muslim Man).” She discussed her father’s memories and his intercultural influence on every aspect of life.

One of the things she mentioned was the different opinions of America she gets and how people always ask her questions such as, “Why are Americans so busy?” and “How does it feel to come from a place with no soul?”

Nye closed with a poem entitled, “Gate A4.” The poem described understanding language and her experience at an airport that encouraged all listeners that, “Not everything is lost,” in which the audience replied in a roaring applause.

Ingrid Spears, Senior Anthropology Major, described the elements that made Nye a positive poet, an inspirational one.

“I found her whole demeanor refreshing and lively,” said Spears. “She certainly is not a depressed poet.”

In the audience was Michael Brock, an English Professor from Brookdale Community College. He said that she was very engaged with the world and she was passionate about peace and conflict. He mentioned that she built a rapport with the audience.

“She was very warm, she knew me, and she embraced every question,” Brock said.

Thomas knew that scheduling Nye to visit the University would teach a whole lot more than just poetry.

“I am interested in hearing from poets from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” Thomas said. “Monmouth University is a place to celebrate culture and teach our students and those of the surrounding community about diversity, about language and about art. Naomi is the essence of this mission.”

The Visiting Writers Series is brought to the campus community by The Center for the Arts.