I really had no interest in poetry until I read The Art of Disappearing by Naomi Shihab Nye. It was the winter of 2010 and I had received a book of top ten poems one should read in their lifetime. This poem was one of them, and for good reason. When I read it then and when I read it now, part of me wants to explain the significance of every line, the way a little kid can’t wait to tell someone what happened to them, like you’re never going to believe it. The other part of me, the part that I will side with, has decided that this poem needs no explanation. Besides, I’ve heard it all before.
So I’ll just say this: it changed me. And in a way, these words saved me. Ultimately, I picked up the pen myself and mimicked her style. I liked her style. I knew that if I were going to try this thing, I needed a mentor who encouraged nonsensical things, like becoming a cabbage, mostly because they made perfect sense to me, and nobody else. You need a mentor who will side with you on the silly things.
When I stood before her with eyes that tried to express that we had in fact met before on the page of her poem, I slid her book across the table and said Hi.
Hi, she smiled. What’s your name?
Kristen. I hope she spells it right.
Whew. Yep, that’s right.
And she began to write on the inside flap: For Kristen.
You’re awesome, I said. Thank you so much.
Oh no, thank you, she said. This has been great. Thank you so much for coming out here today.
And I could see she had drawn a heart on the paper. Underneath, her signature. Yes, the signature is cool, but it’s the heart I really appreciated. It seems too simple, silly even. It was Kindness, that thing that you only know once you lose things.
Can I ask you a question? I said, not wanting to step away.
Sure, go ahead.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you could give me?
The best piece of writing advice….she said, touching her chin in a contemplative measure. Write! Read! Get lost in both worlds, even if it’s just for ten minutes at a time. Whatever you find interesting, give yourself time to write about it.
I smiled. I smiled because this was the second time I had asked for writing advice and the second time I was told to read and write if I wanted to improve my reading and writing. It seems too simple, silly even.
The Art of Disappearing
by Naomi Shihab Nye
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognized you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.