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Joanne the Poet - The Poetry of Joanne M. Clarkson

The Naomi Moment

Since I had my new poetry book “Hospice House” and my MoonPath Press was going to have a presence, I decided to attend the AWP (Associated Writers and Writing Programs) annual conference which was in downtown Seattle this year. The experience was generally overwhelming – the drive and the conference center. There were so very many tables to visit (over 700) and possible sessions to attend (at least a hundred).

Fortunately, I had perused the program thoroughly before I arrived and had identified a few presentations I thought I would enjoy and benefit from. The one that truly made the conference memorable for me was a tribute to poet Naomi Shahib Nye. I have enjoyed her writings for years, first introduced to her poetry anthologies for children years ago when I was a Youth Services Librarian.

This tribute consisted of a panel of four poets who each told stories of her enormous influence on both their lives and work. One was Aimee Nezhukumatathil, another poet I had long admired. Aimee described a night when she was a pre-med student struggling with organic chemistry. Taking a break, she noticed a piece of paper lying on a table in the study area. It was a copy of Naomi’s poem “Mint Snowball” about her grandfather. That poem so enchanted Aimee that she left her course of medical studies at the OSU and majored in English instead.

I did not expect Naomi Nye herself to be there. As one of the panel poets told us, Naomi’s son had passed away unexpectedly last fall. But she did attend. She came to the podium and read for us – some new work about grief and also her signature poem “Kindness” which she read last. After she finished, the auditorium was utterly silent, everyone mesmerized by the power of a single work of poetic art that spoke to the nature of sorrow itself.

When people at last began to stir, the woman to my right, a stranger, turned to me and asked, “Can I hug you? I just need to hug someone.” So we embraced still wrapped in our journey into the heart of words. And I am sure, changed, and redirected toward our better selves.

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