Monday, September 08, 2008


My daughter and I had an interesting talk about being famous on the way to the school today. I find it interesting when someone wants to be "famous" instead or being great or doing good work.

As we drove to school I found myself quoting from Naomi Shihab Nye's poem that she wrote after being asked several times by school children, "Are you famous?"

For me, fame is not what I strive for. I strive to write well.

But if someone wants to be famous, it's easy to do that...or be infamous. For me, being famous or known has never equalled being important and I wonder if that's what drives people to try to achieve "fame."

I may write more about this and maybe how "famous poet" is an oxymoron, but for now, I'll leave you with the Naomi poem I quoted from--


By Naomi Shihab Nye

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.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

“Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). You can find more by Naomi here:


  1. Great post & poem. This thing of poetry in us that has to get out, find a conversation in the vast wet throng of other voices: that it find a home with others, a nest, a womb, a stream to fling up against, is all about our famous need to sing, not to become famous singers ...

  2. Brendan,

    Good thoughts. I love the way you put that. Thank you.

    Valerie-- me too!


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