Thanks to the internet we have the numbers to prove poetry is still a popular medium — at least online.
The Academy of American Poets has announced that the Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness” was this year’s most popular poem by a contemporary poet on its website, Poets.org. The poem, which was read by more than 250,000 people, speaks of how it is necessary to experience loss and sorrow before embracing kindness. The poem begins:
“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.”
“In a time in our society that feels too frequently unkind, I am very touched that people feel this poem speaks to them,” Nye said in statement released by the Academy.
The poem goes on to describe the tragic events that inspired its creation in a call for empathy toward strangers.
“Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.”
“I have never felt I ‘wrote’ the poem,” Nye added. “I have always felt that it was given to me when I needed it, after we were robbed on a night bus in Colombia, and someone else on that bus, the Indian man mentioned in the poem, was murdered.”
Nye, whose father was a Palestinian refugee, spent her childhood between Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of over 10 poetry collections, notably “Blood” (1986) about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East” (2002) which she wrote in support of Arab Americans following the September 11th attacks. She also has written books for children and young adults, including “Habibi” (1997), which is semi-autobiographical.
“I wrote down what I heard,” Nye said of her popular poem’s creation. “All I had was the little notebook and pencil in my back pocket, and I was alive.”
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at email@example.com