The September 11th attacks and their aftermath have shaped our culture for the past decade. Arab Americans in particular have suffered the continuing trauma of stigmatization and violence. In 19 Varieties of Gazelle, poet Naomi Shihab Nye explores what it means to be an Arab American in the wake of the attacks.
The central themes of the book are twofold: to explore the meaning of Nye’s polyglot heritage – as a Palestinian American living near the Mexico border – and to mourn the damage done in the aftermath of the attacks. Nye’s conversational, freeform style is deceptively straightforward and informal: the melding of simple language, sparse imagery, and powerful stories makes for a visceral experience. Nye has a keen storytelling eye that makes ordinary moments extraordinary.
The poem that prefaces the work, “Flinn On The Bus,” tells of a simple encounter that turns tragic when situated in time and space; “The Clean Rinse,” ostensibly about holding onto ones heritage in the face of abuse, is also a powerful statement about personal integrity that does not waste a single world. Nye’s unadorned style avoids the flowery, distracting elements of some poetry and gets right to the heart of her politically as well as personally important subject matter.