I am not sure if this is a good thing or not, but I read about half way through Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners by Naomi Shihab Nye before I realized I thought I had read it before. This is due to one poem being fairly unforgettable in subject. (However, had you asked me the title I could not have told you).
This poem was about Nye visiting Jack Kerouac’s wife, in their home, and how it seems real life was as poetic and fanciful as Kerouac himself. This is one of the few poems of the collection that had some “heft” to it, and I was able to “get into” the poem.
This is not to say that the book is bad. It is not my favorite collection or book she has written, but it is good. I just never really got into the theme of the “voices” of the past and present “floating along” and telling us their stories. Most of the poems, while perfectly delightful poems, seem to be too abstract to hear any voice enough to know who the character speaking is. It is when Nye puts herself as the narrator that it works best (or it seems as if she is the narrator of the poem).
Broken up into several sections, a theme is to be carried out throughout that section. I will leave that up to you if said theme was achieved. Each section is highlighted by a small poem and an illustration. Not knowing my Arabic art/mythology very well, these images seem to have a Native American feel to them. However, I am assuming that they reference something from Nye’s culture.
The end gives bibliographic notes on the famous people mentioned; most of whom are authors themselves. Others are artists and influencers. Some are familiar (Emily Dickinson; Abraham Lincoln; Maya Angelou) and others less so (Stella Kerouac) and others perhaps more regionally known (Ruth Stone).
Yet, even with the less-than-positive comments, I do love this book. I love the words; the effort and time it took to mold them into a structured format; the putting them “out there” for us to experience. I love the experience of being able to read it, then reading it again for the first time.