Review of Everything Comes Next: Collected & New Poems

Everything Comes Next: Collected & New Poems
by Naomi Shihab Nye; illus. by Rafael López
Intermediate, Middle School    Greenwillow    256 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-06-301345-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-301347-6    $9.99

A substantial volume of poems by Nye, the Palestinian American poet and current Young People’s Poet Laureate, is a pleasure on many fronts. This compilation, which includes new poems and others from her past collections (including some originally for adults), is loosely divided into three sections, “The Holy Land of Childhood,” “The Holy Land That Isn’t,” and “People Are the Only Holy Land.” Having so many of Nye’s poems all bumping up against one another reminds us of her particular themes and her deceptively quotidian subjects — meals, family anecdotes, birdwatching, highway signs, relocation, mint tea, coincidences, lost and neglected objects, hope. The poems are sometimes funny but never reductive; and they keep the reader off-balance. We all know about the prohibitions of childhood, but who thinks of “Don’t kiss the squirrel before you bury him”? The poems’ style is conversational and spare of simile, the tone warm, welcoming, inclusive — and occasionally angry. The poem “A Few Questions for Bashar Assad” begins benignly: “We’re curious about your shoes.” We’re a few lines in before we catch the undercurrent of controlled fury. She tackles difficult subjects — war, bereavement, Arab-Jewish relations, refugees — but always with a resonant, stereo point of view: “Love means you breathe in two countries”; “Where we live in the world is never one place.” When she asserts that “not everything is lost,” she has earned her optimism through alert, original, empathetic observation. Lucky the reader who would have this collection on hand for visiting and revisiting.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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Steven Withrow

I admire Nye for her personality, her social conscience, and her enthusiasm for good writing, but I must admit I have over the decades read fewer than 10 poems of hers ("Famous" being the best) that seemed distinctive and well-wrought enough for me to reread or recommend to others.This is not meant as an insult to Nye or her work because she has written about as many good poems as (and likely a few more than) most every other dedicated and talented poet I can recollect. Simply put, good poems are exceedingly rare, and great poems are "monuments of...magnificence," in Yeats's words.When I see a 250-page poetry book by any writer (and I've seen countless corpulent collections much longer than that), it is akin to encountering a 5,000-page novel; it's almost a matter of geometric scale: Surely it could have been compressed, or even abandoned for the mental health of everyone. It’s too much effort for too little return.Aside from the collections of a few dozen masters of English verse over the past 500 years (Frost and Dickinson come to mind in America), a Collected Poems should be no more than 100 pages. And that is being generous. What I'd really love to see is a slim, assiduously edited Selected Poems of Naomi Shihab Nye for younger readers--50 pages of her very best work. That would be an achievement worth revisiting decade after decade on one’s own bookshelves or in the 811 section of the library!

Posted : Jan 08, 2021 02:48


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