12 December 2020

English-language poem by authors of Arab heritage (14-18), judged by poet Naomi Shihab Nye

WINNER: Nour Salama, Egypt

Poem Title: Three Palestinian Boys

Selected Artwork: Marwan Kassab Bachi, Three Palestinian Boys, 1970

Salama said, in reaction to this painting, “I wrote my poem like a story, so that the viewer could look at the two pieces and feel like they are in it, or in fact one of the three Palestinian boys.”

About the winning poem, judge Naomi Shihab-Nye said, “Poetry has a very particular relationship with the seen and unseen, the visible and invisible worlds. This piece of art and this poem as well examine the mysteries of presence and absence – honoring lives in exile, memories gone missing, erased villages, disappeared children, all the terrible realities which have unfortunately been a legacy for Palestinian (and Syrian, and Iraqi, on and on) precious people.  I was profoundly moved by the spare lines and the jagged occasional (but not too awkward) rhyming. Lines like “Three Palestinian boys/Were none by noon” were searing in their understatement, yet huge implication. When the speaker says the missing Palestinian boy is himself, the poem really comes in for a landing.  This is a playful poet, even when discussing a terribly somber subject. Humanity’s open heart is turning over terrible realities – what we humans can do to one another.  Somehow the lightness of touch intensifies the pain.”

RUNNER UP: Maria Georges Atallah, Lebanon

Poem Title: News Without News

Selected Artwork: Inji Efflatoun, Dreams of the Detainee, 1961

Shihab-Nye wrote, of this poem, “The curiosity and longing held within this poem reminded me of the work of the great Nazim Hikmet of Turkey – written in epistolary form, the poem contains an intimacy of tone and a natural flow. I was moved by lines like, “I’ve memorized my landscape and I’m starting to get ill” and “I have no trains to take.”  The disaster of the speaker’s containment or imprisonment is portrayed very specifically instead of just named. “I’d love to have your life or maybe…your country.” There’s an honesty of tone and pain. That last phrase, “a country that looks like everything but me” is a stunning closure.”

More about the judge and winning poets:

Palestinian-American writer Naomi Shihab Nye is the Young People’s Poet Laureate of the United States through the Poetry Foundation of Chicago. Editor of the poems for the New York Times magazine, she is on faculty at Texas State University and has written or edited more than 30 books of poems, essays, and fiction. 

Nour Salama is a creative and aspiring young writer who enjoys walks under the moonlight, embroidery, making art and writing poetry while watching the sunrise. Writing to make all the crazy concepts in her yarn ball of a brain reality, she has publications in multiple literary journals, in hopes to share those thoughts with the world and hopefully to create a positive change with her words, no matter how small. When she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out with friends, creating or self projecting on fictional characters. 

Maria Georges Atallah is a 17-year-old Lebanese writer who’s found shelter in art and literature. Having roots in a country that feels like everything but safe, she yearns and longs for a change in her wounded motherland only reached through culture and knowledge.