“Do You Have Some Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?”

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.

It’s all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.

Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.

Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author’s name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.

You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, “Shhhh.”

Then start again.
—Ron Koertge

I absolutely love this poem. I came across it on the Library of Congress’s Poetry 180, hosted by Billy Collins.

(You should sign up. It gives you a poem per day and it’s super awesome.)

This is a poem on writing, though I think it applies to most, if not all, attempts in life. I love to think of my attempts to love others as a tower; I add on and on, my smile widening, until it falls down. Instead of crying, I laugh and laugh. I stand up, I pick up the pieces, and I start again. My attempts to write go through the same process. My attempts to do my Precalculus homework, the same. My attempts to play violin. My attempts to nurture a reading lifestyle. All the same. Crashing and laughing, crashing and laughing, over and over. I love it.

Poetically, this is a well done poem. Koetge’s use of enjambment works well to further emphasize sentences. Take, for example, the first line, “Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave” Not only is the full sentence – “Give…desk” – a good way to make a point, the enjambment of the word “[l]eave” at the end, makes it act partially as a full sentence, furthering the idea in the past the sentence.

The form of the poem impacts the way I read the poem because each stanza is an important part of the ‘instructions’ or advice that Koertge gives. The stanzas separate and inform them reader of the different steps for “starting out.” First, you must leave home – first stanza. Second, get a notebook, not something super special, just a notebook – second stanza. Avoid uninspiring places – third stanza. Libraries are one of many good places to write – fourth stanza. Lastly, here is what to do when it doesn’t work out the way you planned – last stanzas. So while the form does not hugely impact the information given, the ideas communicated would be different without the form.

Koertge’s poem is an inspiring poem about being persistent, specifically in writing, but it in any endeavor. It tells a narrative that could not be told the same way in prose.

(Mainly, though, I like this poem because it gives me permission to laugh so loudly everybody looks at me funny, which I am all for supporting and participating in.)



2 thoughts on ““Do You Have Some Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?”

  1. Reid I seriously always love reading your posts (and might possibly read all of them for fun) and this one I especially enjoyed. I liked how you talked about your personal connections with attempting and failing and starting again in areas of your life, whether it’s in how you love your friends or in your schoolwork. I liked your analysis of the poem and related to how you continuously picking the pieces up and go again. 🙂 A small critique would be in minor grammar errors which just come with proofreading. the sentence “The stanzas separate and and inform them reader of the different steps for ‘starting out.'” it has “and” repeated twice. Loved it as always well done 🙂


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