Poetry Break: Advice for Newbies

Pen ballet

Two posts in a row about writing. Folks who know me were probably taking bets on when that was going to happen.

I am working my way through the Poetry 180 series, and today was the day I happened to reach Ron Koertge “Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?”. This part struck me:

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.

My best writing place ever was the third floor of my university’s library in the children’s section. Being a small town university library, the kiddie lit section was not particularly impressive, but it did have a tiny animal-shaped table — with tinier animal-shaped chairs — in one picture window corner. There was an elephant, a lion, and a panda, the first the table and the last two the chairs. I’d move the little chairs and park myself there on the floor between classes or on weekends. Especially on weekends when the library was otherwise silent. And with my legs stretched out or crossed at the knee or folded under me, I’d write and write and write.

It was not easy; I don’t think self-discovery ever is. I have memories of rain and thunder pulsing outside, reflected in the fury of my pen and the tears sneaking down my cheeks. (Because it was still public, after all. And I hadn’t yet given myself permission to shed public tears freely.) I wrote some good shit there, and it was painful. But I also think this was pain in a purposeful, cleansing way, and I was better for working through it.

From time to time, children, parents, and/or university students would come into the section, looking for a book, and I’d have to pretend that it was the most normal sight in the world for a mostly grown woman to be sitting cross-legged in a table shaped like an elephant’s butt. And for me, you know, it was. For whatever reason — let’s pretend something cool, like a metaphysical connection to the freedom and imagination of my childhood daydreams — claiming that space as a writer’s space (though I always offered to move when actual children entered the room, which was not often) let me be with a part of myself that was very intuitive and innate. I still cannot explain precisely why I continue to feel at home on the floor — my version of groundedness, maybe? — though I know that is what feels right to me.

Being alone in that space, grounded in that space, an observer in that space — more than anything, what it let me do was get comfortable with myself as a writer. And when I could see myself as a writer, I could let the words flow. I know I said I write some good shit at that elephant table, and that is true. I also wrote many steaming piles of elephant dung. And you know what? That is okay. Because I don’t think writing is about shitting diamonds and pearls at every first pass. (If it is, I’m screwed.) Rather, I think the main part of writing is as verb — to keep doing it. Because in the action, there is a connection, from soul to mind to body to words to paper.

I guess it’s not surprising that I frame my asana practice in the same terms. That’s about me putting my body to shapes rather than pen to paper, but still — it’s about the action and the connection. The doing is what’s important, more so than the visual result, which is just the snapshot of an instant rather than a true recording of the journey. So it’s fitting, I think, to continue the poetic metaphor in a yoga train of thought:

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.

Whether I move gracefully or whether I fall — and believe me, even after 12 years of practice, I have a sound practice of falls — the connection and the joy comes from doing it rather than from any outside-observable result. That’s what makes it okay to laugh with myself, no matter what the visual result, and always to keep doing and start again.


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

Posted in non-asana, Poetry Break, present

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