The subjectivity of poetry

My feet are famous to this blog

Started my Poetry unit with the Grade 7 classes today. I really really love this unit. I love planning for it, I love teaching it, I love watching the kids be entranced by words and experience images through it. It does something to them. Brings out a voice, a conviction, some sort of commitment to language that surprises even themselves.

I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, the first year I taught poetry, I was a little freaked out. I was intimidated by interpretation, even if it was something I studied and by nature love to do (read:over-analyze). But, since I’ve been able to read some of the work these kids can produce, I’ve been converted. Not only that, I think I’ve rediscovered my love for words and figurative language through teaching poetry. It forced me to read poems and read them closely and yes, face an old old love. It took my accepting that it didn’t quite love me the same way as an “attempter” at it. I am hoping through writing fiction this time, it will find a way to love my back.

Really, I’d teach this poetry unit any day.

Anyway, here’s a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. When I think of favorite poems, I think about this one. And since I start my unit with the subjectivity of poetry, I usually, unabashedly share some of the ones I love. (One Art by Elizabeth Bishop (my favorite of the villanelles), anything by Pablo Neruda and ee cummings, also, The Colonel by Carolyn Forché among others). I am sure to post more as the term progresses. Can’t wait for our Poetry Fest to be held some time March. 🙂 Those always fall under my list of life’s peak experiences.

For now, enjoy…


By Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth

before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds

watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom

is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,

more famous than the dress shoe,

which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men

who smile while crossing streets,

sticky children in grocery lines,

famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

grateful slice: great poets and their work

Naomi Shihab Nye’s mixed heritage—her father is Palestinian, her mother is American—shapes the subjects of her poetry. Through mostly free verse, Nye often writes about everyday life while addressing cultural issues. Nye has traveled extensively, including to the Middle East and Asia to promote goodwill through the arts.

“Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of the author.


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