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All of Buffalo Reads Naomi Shihab Nye

On December 2nd, BOA author Naomi Shihab Nye was in Buffalo, New York to read from her most recent collection, Transfer, as part of the Babel international author series, offered since 2007 by the Just Buffalo Literary Center. Just Buffalo also selected Transfer for “If All of Buffalo Read the Same Book,” a community-wide reading program that encourages everyone to read and discuss the same title at the same time. Before Naomi read, Mike Kelleher—poet and artistic director at Just Buffalo—gave a wonderful introduction that considered the many meanings of the word “transfer” in the collection. Below are some photographs from the event and a transcript of Mike’s remarks. 20111202-_D703190 20111202-_D703302 20111202-_D703216 20111202-_D703220 20111202-_D703314 20111202-_D703350 All photographs by Bruce Jackson ( Introduction for Naomi Shihab Nye Welcome to the second installment of our Babel season. We’re very excited to present Naomi Shihab Nye this evening. For “If All of Buffalo Read the Same Book,” we chose her new collection of poems, Transfer, which she’ll be reading from and discussing tonight. Transfer, I should note, was published by our friends at BOA Editions in Rochester. It’s nice, for once, to be able to showcase a book that was not published by Random House. It’s doubly nice to able to showcase a book published outside of Manhattan. Our friends from BOA are here tonight, so let’s give them a hand. At our Babel book discussion at Betty’s on Monday night, Professor Jim Holstun’s opening question to the group was about the title. He asked the group: What are some of the different meanings the title takes on as you read through the book? I am not sure it was a question many had thought about for too long, but one by one the hands began to go up, each one finding new significance in this simple, two-syllable word. In the poem from which the book takes its title, “Scared, Scarred, Sacred,” Nye tells the story of accompanying her father to a movie theatre to see “The Wizard of Oz.” On the bus ride home, the young Naomi notices a ticket in her father’s hand. She asks him what it is for. He tells her it’s a transfer for another bus, when we get off this one. In the next section of the poem, she recalls her father’s love of travel, and how he used to save all the pink transfer tags he’d pulled off his suitcases. As in much of Naomi Shihab Nye’s work, it is the experience of the quotidian that leads her, and us, into a more profound understanding of the world. Her father’s transfers are literal, utilitarian objects in the real world: one gets you on the next bus, the other, hopefully, gets your luggage onto the next plane, and so on. However, as we move through the book with these tickets and tags in our minds, we see that the word “transfer” begins to mean much more. One of the hands that rose in our book discussion brought up the fact that a “transfer” is also a movement from one place to another, how this could describe Naomi’s father, a Palestinian by birth, being transferred from his ancestral homeland to the U.S. after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Another hand rose to suggest that “transfer” also meant the conveyance of property from one party to another, and how one of the poems deals with this very question when Naomi’s father returns to Palestine, having inherited his mother’s land, and must decide whether to hold on or sell it, aware always that the transfer of that property has serious consequences depending on whether he sells it to a Palestinian or an Israeli. Still another hand rose, talking about the way “transfer” works in the relationship between father and daughter. How the father’s death was a kind of transfer from one state of being to another. How Naomi’s book was a transfer of the hopes and griefs and fears and joys of the father to his daughter, the poet, who hoped to transfer these ideas to the page, where they could then be transferred to the reader. In short, we could have gone on all night. I did not raise my hand during this part of the discussion, but it stayed with me after I went home. I thought I remembered that “transfer” was a root meaning of the word “metaphor.” But then I questioned myself, because I also seemed to remember that it was a root meaning of the word “translation.” I got out my dictionary to happily discover that “transfer” is a root meaning of both “metaphor” and “translation.” What makes Naomi Shihab Nye’s work so exciting, I think, is that her grasp of the everyday opens up the mundane to reveal the world. This is, ultimately, an act of translation. That a bus transfer ticket can become a metaphor for both the conundrum of Middle Eastern geopolitics and the mourning of a daughter for her dead father, is an insight we are all fortunate enough to have Naomi Shihab Nye here to share with us. Please join me in welcoming her to Buffalo. --Mike Kelleher
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