Book Review: The Tiny Journalist by Naomi Shihab Nye

Book Review: The Tiny Journalist by Naomi Shihab Nye

This is a fascinating little book, and you don’t have to be a fan of poetry to enjoy it. Much of this book reads more like Naomi Shihab Nye’s field notes, sketches, and reflections on her father’s homeland of Palestine, rather than poetry, and as such it’s a pretty quick read.

Some people reject the idea that poetry can be political. Poetry should just be art, they say. But this is a political book. This is protest poetry. It’s a book about what Palestine has suffered at the hands of neighboring Israel.

I should probably say that I don’t know much about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; I don’t pretend to know to whom Jerusalem rightfully belongs, etc. But I think it’s clear that injustices abound, and this book is about acknowledging that, about hoping for peace, about the potential for two opposing groups to come together in unity.

Many of the poems are told from the perspective of Janna Jihad Ayyad, who is the tiny journalist mentioned in the title. As a young girl, Janna saw the injustices around her and decided she needed to speak up. So she became a journalist and began uploading videos of her news coverage to YouTube and other social media platforms.

Here’s a short excerpt:

“The tiny journalist notices
action on far away roads…

They pretend not to see us.
They came at night with weapons.

What was our crime? That we liked
respect as they do? That we have pride?

She stares through a hole in the fence,
barricade of words and wire…”

The language is beautiful, even if the subject matter is often bleak. But in some places, a little bit of humor shines through, like in this poem called “To Netanyahu”:

“My Palestinian father named his donkey after you.
Yahu–everyone thought it was for the Internet,
but he knew. Now I think he insulted the donkey. …”

But it’s not just humor that adds brightness to this book. Some of the poems are so beautiful that I couldn’t turn the page to the next poem, and I just had to sit and feel what I had just read. Even in conflict and heartache there can be beauty. Here’s one of my favorite poems from the book, called “Dead Sea”:

“You could call it a friend, holding you
in its salty palm, letting you feel lighter
on the planet thanks to salt, playing its
joke. I love its somber gray sheen,
its loneliness. It might have preferred
to be a cool wave, an icy Arctic lake,
or the burbling spring my grandmother listened to
her whole childhood before the settlers
drained it off from us. She says the spring
had secrets and knew where jewels were,
in a house nobody lived in, and only children
would ever find the key.”

Naomi Shihab Nye is one of my new favorite poets. If you want to read more, just Google her name. Her work is everywhere. It’s also really fun to listen to her read on YouTube.

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