As I was looking for a poem to use for my “How a Poem’s Sound Happens” presentation I stumbled upon this poem, also by Naomi Shihab Nye (the same poet that I did for my presentation.) I was so immediately drawn in by the structure of this poem: it’s incredible how Nye is able to construct meaning in the first part of this poem out of what is unwritten: the answers to the first six rhetorical questions. I also think that the slightly interrogative atmosphere, a feeling that is introduced softly: beginning with a ‘because’ rather than an ‘if,’ is very important to it’s subject matter – related to where war, religion, and fundamentalism intersect.
As a writing prompt, I would like to urge everyone to try to write a poem using rhetorical questions that, when put together, will re-envision and explain a complex situation in simpler terms.
- Think about something that you are very familiar with but that many other people aren’t familiar with (this can be a phenomenon, a lifestyle, a misunderstood individual, a place, etc…)
- Come up with questions that you think will help someone understand and relate to the thing that you came up with in the first step. Try not to use any words that make a direct reference to the thing that you chose in the first step, instead looking outside of this thing in order to explain in, or breaking it down into smaller parts.
- I want you to address your questions to a “you,” similarly to how Nye does this in her poem.
- I want you to try to begin each question differently. (ex/ “what if,” “if,” “how,” “when,” “why,” “is,” etc…)
If anyone decides to try this please let me know how it turns out and feel free to share what you came up with in a comment or post. Also feel free to add any extra steps or ideas that you might have. Hope that this is helpful to someone!
-Christy L. Agrawal