Inaugural poet: people’s choice winners

The votes are in, and we have a clear winner. “It’s late but everything comes next” garnered 16 of the 165 votes cast, for 9.7 percent of the total. The author is Naomi Shihab Nye, and the line comes from her poem “Jerusalem,” in Red Suitcase. As the following video also demonstrates, Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems are full of just the sort of advice an incoming president might find useful.

A president-elect who’s also an international celebrity might benefit from the reality-check provided by Nye’s poem “Famous,” which begins:

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

Read the whole poem here. Also worth checking out is an interview with Nye at Pif magazine, conducted by Rachel Barenblat of Velveteen Rabbi fame. And in another, more recent interview at Foreign Policy in Focus, the Palestinian-American poet had some specific advice for the incoming president regarding Israel/Palestine:

Melissa Tuckey: You wrote in an email that Barack Obama needs to evolve in his positions on Israel/Palestine. What course of action would you recommend for the future president (be he Obama or McCain)?

Naomi Shihab Nye: Balance. Respect for all human beings. All stories. All pain. Recognition of what the Palestinian people have been through in the last 60-plus years. Honest recognition that the violence has hardly been a one-way street.

Melissa Tuckey: Do you believe peace is possible? What are your hopes for Israel and for Palestine? Do you support one state in Israel/ Palestine or two?

Naomi Shihab Nye: Yes, I believe peace is possible. As my father kept saying toward the end of his life, people will have to become exhausted enough with fighting to embrace peace. From what I hear, many, on both “sides” have been exhausted enough to try something better for quite a long time. My hopes are for a one-state cooperative solution (because the territory is simply so small) in which Palestinian and Israeli citizens may share their strengths and resources in mutual respect. I don’t see, at this point, how a two-state solution could work as well. The wall must go down. Don’t bring it to Texas, either, we have enough problems with our own stupid wall!

“Jerusalem” is too long to quote in its entirety, but it ends:

There’s a place in my brain
Where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.

It’s late but everything comes next.


Six other quotes garnered 12 or more votes each.

Minor-party candidates

  • “Take
    your time. Take mine
    too. Get into some trouble
    I’ll have to account for.” (8 votes)
    Tess Gallagher, “Instructions to the Double” (Instructions to the Double)
  • “Still
    there is a population
    that likes mistakes and
    indecision, guarding
    atavisms and anatomical
    sports, the hips of snakes,
    the wings of the horse.” (8 votes)
    Kay Ryan, “Les Natures Profondement Bonnes Sont Toujours Indecises” (Flamingo Watching)
  • “Trapped in one idea, you can’t have your feelings,
    feelings are always about more than one thing.” (8 votes)
    Adrienne Rich, from “Contradictions: Tracking Poems,” #13 (Your Native Land, Your Life)
  • “Salmon lie at rest in the riffles,
    their sea-silver changing,
    as they ascend to the
    cold, still water of stars.” (7 votes)
    John Haines, “Doors that Open” (Where the Twilight Never Ends)
  • [Removed at author’s request] (7 votes)
    Bill Knott, “Minor Poem” (found online)
  • “we must learn to suckle life not
    bombs and rhetoric
    rising up in redwhiteandblue patriotism” (7 votes)
    Sonia Sanchez, “Reflections After the June 12th March for Disarmament” (homegirls and handgrenades)
  • “If you’re gonna bet on cards, Ben says,
    You might as well play harmonica.” (6 votes)
    Tom Montag, untitled (The Big Book of Ben Zen)
  • “There is nothing one man will not do to another.” (5 votes)
    Carolyn Forché, “The Visitor” (The Country Between Us)
  • “The thing you have to remember
    about hot water cornbread
    is to wait for the burning
    so you know when to flip it, and then again
    so you know when it’s crusty and done.” (4 votes)
    Patricia Smith, “When the Burning Begins” (Teahouse of the Almighty)
  • “America needs a beating.” (3 votes)
    Gary Soto, “Our Days” (Who Will Know Us?)
  • “Cigarettes are the only way
    to make bleakness nutritional, or at least useful,
    something to do while feeling terrified.” (3 votes)
    B. H. Fairchild, “Cigarettes” (The Art of the Lathe)
  • “Great are the Hittites.” (3 votes)
    Charles Simic, “Concerning My Neighbors, the Hittites” (Dismantling the Silence)
  • “If you laid out all the limbs from the Civil War hospital
    in Washington they would encircle the White House seven times.” (3 votes)
    Jim Harrison, from “Ghazals,” XXXIX (The Shape of the Journey)

There were also three write-in candidates which garnered one vote apiece, though none appear to be from only one was from a living American poet.

Thanks to everyone for voting, and don’t forget to support poets by buying their works.