Perihelion: An Online Journal of Poetry and Mayhem
The Phoenix Issue, No. 16, Winter 2008
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Naomi Shihab Nye

In Celebration of Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary
Arab American Poetry


        Arab American poets, writers and artists growing up in the richly mixed, savory (and often complicated) atmospheres of our interweaving worlds, could probably function just fine without feeling a sense of mysterious obligation, a kind of collective calling accompanying what we do. But somehow it has become also our unstated job to keep underscoring humanity every way we can, shining little lights into the realities of lives, conditions, conflicts...because the big news has been so faceless, so grim, and people hunger for the deeper knowing and understanding which art and literature offer.


        This attempt-to-balance, this devotion to revelation and connection is one the current writers and artists of the community are quite well suited for—they have the necessary gifts and energies. Good thing—I think the world is going to keep asking them questions and looking to them for some larger story—deeper and more timeless than all the hopping hype and tragedies of violence. It has been my conviction for some time that every act of violence, whether sanctioned or unsanctioned, is a betrayal of language—as writers and students and teachers, we believe in language. 


        This March, when President Obama spoke on video to the citizens and leaders of Iran, expressing, among other things, a gratitude for all the inspired culture emanating for centuries from that country, it seemed a crucial and necessary moment. A spirit of gratitude and acknowledgment, a shared discovery and mutual respect, is what artists keep trying to invoke, from everywhere, all the time.