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Author shares passion for poetry (Video)

By BY J.R. ORTEGA - JRORTEGA@VICAD.COM
Jan. 31, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 31, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.

American Book Review speaker Naomi Shihab Nye answers questions regarding religion and politics in the Middle East following her presentation.

Eyes and ears intent, Edith Silvas celebrated her belated birthday the way she wanted to - listening to a poet she has long admired.

The 46-year-old made a special trip from Houston to Victoria on Thursday after learning Arab-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye would be the spring semester inaugural speaker for the University of Houston-Victoria's American Book Review series.

"Her words to me are just so healing and helpful," said Silvas.

Nye captured the audience in the packed Alcorn Auditorium with her soothing, passionate voice as she read through some of her collection of poetry and short stories.

Between the readings, she talked about a message - a message of open-mindedness, diversity and the simple luxuries in life usually taken for granted.

"No, I was not busy when you came; I was not preparing to be busy," she read from one of her pieces, "The Red Brocade." "That's the armor that everyone put on to pretend they had a purpose in the world."

Nye went on to explain that the places she has visited around the world have always seen and heard of Americans being busy. This she doesn't agree with.

"This is the stereotype of our country," she said. "I urge you to identify words that don't serve you and cast them aside. Words that do not belong in your lexicon."

Nye first become interested in poetry as a young girl, reading and digesting content like Emily Dickinson's work.

One of Nye's poems, "Knowing," was about things she discovered after her father's death. She found her Palestinian father's scrapbook, filled with letters to editors of American newspaper he had sent in 1950s. Among them were a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt and her response.

This, and several of her other readings, focused on racial diversity and the importance of embracing being different.

"On April 16, 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a letter to my father answering one of his own. 'No,' she said, 'I do not think Arab refugees should be permitted to return to their homes in Israel. There are few homes to return to,'" she read. "I imagined his face - perfect burn of indignation. He would carry his lost home into the next millennium and never enter it again, though it remains intact till now."

Her readings went on, and people listened closely, admiring each word delicately, taking it in, understanding it and applying it to their lives in different ways.

This, Nye said, is the power of poetry.

"It's that sense that we could be given worlds through four lines, eight lines and participate in another's experience was what made me fall in love with the slow, carefully shaped language of poetry," she said.

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