Review of Voices in the Air

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Middle School    Greenwillow    208 pp.    g
2/18    978-0-06-269184-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-269186-6    $9.99

Many of Nye’s ninety-four original poems speak to historical and contemporary figures, from storied poets such as Yehuda Amichai, Lucille Clifton, José Emilio Pacheco, and Walt Whitman to a trusted Honolulu hairstylist and a nine-year-old victim of random gun violence in Ferguson, Missouri. Rather than writing about these people, Nye writes to them, casting them as listeners and making the collection something of a paean to listening. The poems themselves, generally a page or two in length, are plainspoken, direct, and saturated in meaning, building connections between the world we inhabit and the ways that world is interpreted. Careful arrangement adds moments of meaning between the poems: “Belfast” commemorates the violence of that city’s conflict; it is followed by “Summer,” exploring Americans’ appetite for blockbuster movie violence, and then “A Lonely Cup of Coffee,” honoring the safety of solitude. Taken in sequence, the poems lead the reader through a natural and profound emotional progression. 
As much as the poems function as windows into their subjects, together they offer a sort of self-portrait of the poet herself, painted in negative space. Through her communication with 
the people who make up her world, 
we see her place in it. Comprehensive 
biographical notes on the “listeners” 
and title and first-line indexes are appended.

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess is Youth Services Manager for the Whatcom County Library System in northwest Washington State.

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