19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East

( 2 )


"Tell me how to live so many lives at once ..."

Fowzi, who beats everyone at dominoes; Ibtisam, who wanted to be a doctor; Abu Mahmoud, who knows every eggplant and peach in his West Bank garden; mysterious Uncle Mohammed, who moved to the mountain; a girl in a red sweater dangling a book bag; children in velvet dresses who haunt the candy bowl at the party; Baba Kamalyari, age 71; Mr. Dajani and his swans; ...

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"Tell me how to live so many lives at once ..."

Fowzi, who beats everyone at dominoes; Ibtisam, who wanted to be a doctor; Abu Mahmoud, who knows every eggplant and peach in his West Bank garden; mysterious Uncle Mohammed, who moved to the mountain; a girl in a red sweater dangling a book bag; children in velvet dresses who haunt the candy bowl at the party; Baba Kamalyari, age 71; Mr. Dajani and his swans; Sitti Khadra, who never lost her peace inside.

Maybe they have something to tell us.

Naomi Shihab Nye has been writing about being Arab-American, about Jerusalem, about the West Bank, about family all her life. These new and collected poems of the Middle East -- sixty in all -- appear together here for the first time.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Finalist for the 2002 National Book Award, Young People's Literature

Award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye has brought together a collection of her poems about the Middle East, shedding powerful, tender light on a region filled with rich history and much turmoil. Nye, who is of Middle Eastern descent herself, speaks from the heart, capturing an entire culture in strong images -- especially in "Biography of an Armenian Schoolgirl," "Rock," and the poem that gives the anthology its title. Both remarkable and enlightening, this collection of poetry will help foster understanding in young and old alike for an area of the world most of us know only through nightly news broadcasts.

Kathleen Odean
This elegant poetry collection evokes the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the Middle East, especially Jerusalem, as experienced by a Palestinian-American. The sixty poems reflect the strength Nye derives from her father's family and the pain she feels reading "deeply sorrowful headlines" concerning Arabs. With so few books for teens by Arab-Americans, this moving collection is all the more important for those beginning to understand and appreciate Arab culture.
Publishers Weekly
Many of the poems, which focus on the Middle East and the Arab-American experience, have appeared in previous collections; others are published here for the first time. PW called this an excellent way to invite exploration and discussion of events far away and their impact here at home. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Nye's latest collection of poetry appropriately deals with Arab Americans and the Middle East. Several poems in this new collection have been published before, but those about the Middle East appear for the first time together in one volume. In a heartfelt introduction, Nye relates her emotions about the tragic terrorist events of September 11, 2001, and how they prompted her to turn to a familiar source for solace—poetry. These poems show what life is like for Arab Americans who are tied to two very different worlds. Caught painfully between these two worlds, they feel the horror and sadness over the terrorist acts yet are aware of the many innocent Arabs who have become victims as well. Nye's introduction and her poetry clearly reflect this pain. In "Ducks," the narrator compares her position between two countries to three ducks living together in her pond, but not getting along very well. The poet sees herself as the female duck trying to survive in the pond with two warring companions. In "Blood," Nye speaks of her father, who like the poet, belongs to two countries but can wave the flag of neither in the conflict between Palestine and the U.S.-backed Israel. Like most of Nye's books, this latest work is a worthy addition to any library. This collection can help teens understand a different point of view and a culture with which most teens are not familiar, while helping to ease the lingering pain still felt months after lives changed on September 11. This book can be enjoyed by the individual reader or used effectively in a classroom setting. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; JuniorHigh, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Greenwillow, 160p,
— Jennifer Rice
Children's Literature
In between the silly poetry of childhood (Mother Goose, Shel Silverstein) and the swirling, metaphoric, sometimes pretentious poetry of adulthood is the gray area of adolescence, when much of the reading done is required for school, and poetry is rarely touched. Many teachers often ask, "How can we make poetry a relevant medium for teenagers?" Naomi Shihab Nye may have the answer with her book of poetry from the Middle East. Teenagers are more interested in current events now than they have been since the Gulf War. This is poetry they can be interested in. The book starts with a tribute poem and an intro concerning the events of September 11. The Gulf War is mentioned explicitly once. The rest of the poems (60 in all) deal with the humanity of Arabs and their daily joys and struggles, so a new generation of readers can learn to appreciate this rich and ancient culture from a new perspective. Nye's words will always be slightly ahead of a teenage reader, but the reader will never feel left behind. These are excellent poems to start an even-handed dialogue on the daily struggle in Israel/Palestine.
—Carey Ahr
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-Nye is well known as an anthologist for children, but adults have enjoyed her poetry collections for years, and many of those selections, as well as new ones, are gathered here. In her introduction, she describes the effects of the events of September 11th on her and other Arab-Americans. An introductory poem is about that day in particular; otherwise, the selections are about her family, her visits to the Middle East, and her observations of events there in general. This offering is a celebration of her heritage, and a call for peace. In "Jerusalem," she says, "I'm not interested in who suffered the most. I'm interested in people getting over it," using her poetic voice to make her point clearly and powerfully. Other poems are more particular, using family members, or meetings with friends or strangers as the frames around which her image-rich world unfolds. "My Father and the Figtree": "For other fruits my father was indifferent. He'd point at the cherry trees and say, `See those? I wish they were figs.' In the evenings he sat by our beds weaving folktales like vivid little scarves. They always involved a figtree. Even when it didn't fit, he'd stick it in." Of particular use today, this is the kind of book that young and older readers of poetry will turn back to over and over.-Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a collection as rich as the subject, Nye (Come With Me, 2000, etc.) brings together all of her poems about the Middle East, old and new, familiar and unknown. Opening with a poem about a young man just released from prison on the morning of September 11th, she follows with a reflection on what that day has meant for everyone, especially for Arabs and Arab-Americans, who, through Nye, say: "This is not who we are." She follows with exquisitely nuanced images of fig trees, grandmothers, Palestinian children, the loss of "pleasant pauses," and "The Man Who Makes Brooms." Asking "How Long Peace Takes," Nye writes, "As long as the question-what if I / were you?-has two heads," and answers a border guard, "We will eat cabbage rolls, rice with sugar and milk, / crisply sizzled eggplant. When the olives come / sailing past / in their little boat, we will line them on our / plates / like punctuation. What do governments have to do / with such pleasure?" Poem after poem will elicit a gasp of surprise, a nod of the head, a pause to reflect. There are no false steps here-only a feeling of sensory overload and a need to take a deep breath and reread or to find someone to share the intensely felt emotion that springs from the lines. In her closing poem, a musing on what one should have said, she writes, "Say it / as if words count." With this gifted writer, they really do. (Poetry. 10+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060504045
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/15/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 448,313
  • Age range: 13 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.12 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Naomi Shihab Nye has received a Lannan Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, and four Pushcart Prizes. Her collection 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East was a finalist for the National Book Award, and her collection Honeybee was awarded the Arab-American Book Award. She is currently serving on the Board of Chancellors for the Academy of American Poets. Naomi Shihab Nye has edited several honored and popular poetry anthologies, including Time You Let Me In, What Have You Lost?, Salting the Ocean, and This Same Sky, and she is the author of the novels Habibi and Going, Going. She lives with her family in San Antonio, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt


A man letters the sign for his grocery in Arabic and English.
Paint dried more quickly in English.
The thick swoops and curls of Arabic letters stay moist
and glistening til tomorrow when the children show up
jingling their dimes.

They have learned the currency of the New World,
carrying wishes for gum and candies shaped like fish.
They float through the streets, diving deep to the bottom,
nosing rich layers of crusted shell.

One of these children will tell a story that keeps her people
alive. We don't know yet which one she is.
Girl in the red sweater dangling a book bag,
sister with eyes pinned to the barrel of pumpkin seeds.
They are lettering the sidewalk with their steps.

They are separate and together and a little bit late.
Carrying a creased note, "Don't forget."
Who wrote it? They've already forgotten.
A purple fish sticks to the back of the throat.
Their long laughs are boats they will ride and ride,
making the shadows that cross each other's smiles.

—Naomi Shihab Nye

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Table of Contents

Introduction x
Section 11
Different Ways to Pray 3
My Father and the Figtree 6
What Kind of Fool Am I? 8
Going to the Spring 9
Biography of an Armenian Schoolgirl 11
The Words Under the Words 14
Spark 16
The Man Who Makes Brooms 18
The Garden of Abu Mahmoud 20
Her Way 22
The Clean Rinse 24
For Mohammed on the Mountain 25
Passing the Refugee Camp 30
Lunch in Nablus City Park 35
Arabic Coffee 38
Red Brocade 40
Steps 42
Prayer in My Boot 44
Things Don't Stop 46
Even at War 50
The Grieving Ring 51
For the 500th Dead Palestinian, Ibtisam Bozieh 53
Those Whom We Do Not Know 55
Visit 58
The Palestinians Have Given Up Parties 59
The Small Vases from Hebron 63
Darling 65
Fundamentalism 68
My Grandmother in the Stars 69
Rock 70
Praying for Wind 73
Olive Jar 80
They Dropped It 83
Section 285
19 Varieties of Gazelle 87
Arabic 90
Jerusalem 92
Holy Land 94
Half-and-Half 96
Stain 98
My Uncle's Favorite Coffee Shop 99
A Definite Shore 102
Two Countries 104
The Tray 105
The Many Hats of William Yale 106
What News Are You Listening To? 108
Staying Close 109
Ducks 110
The Address Book of a Lonely Man 112
Footfall 114
Trenches and Moats and Mounds of Dirt 117
What He Said to His Enemies 119
Peace 120
How Long Peace Takes 122
A Single Slice Reveals Them 124
Stone House 125
Jerusalem Headlines 2000 128
Mr. Dajani, Calling from Jericho 130
All Things Not Considered 133
Blood 136
Postscript 139
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 2, 2013

    I loved this book! Everyone who desires a sensibility of the Middle East should read it!

    The Poetry of Nye: 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
    I loved this book of poems. It read like a very reflective piece of work and though it is many poems combined in one book, it could have easily been one long poem of glimpses of the Middle East. I believe that Nye’s point here is for us to see pictures of everyday people trying to live “normal” lives amidst a constant threat of war. Nye shows objects and rituals close to these people’s hearts—things that connect them to their land and to their identity: a “sprig of mint” in their tea, olives, grapes, figs, goat cheese, and fabrics that they love. These things are particular to their culture, but in other ways, these people are just like the rest of us: just ordinary people trying to love their families and raise their children. It is sooo sad that here in America, we see the extreme fundamentalist when we picture an Arab person in our head; it would be good for us to see the normal, everyday Arab human, trying to live his/her life and trying to love his/her family and his/her land.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2008

    Breaks My Heart With Her Insights and Language

    This was the first book of Nye's poetry I read, but it won't be my last. Her poetry gives us insights to another side of the challanges of the Middle East conflicts. She is a woman who has ties to both the Middle East 'through her refugee father' and America 'through her mother' and this gives her the ability to feel for both. I highly recommend her poetry.

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