Poetry Friday: Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself”


I’ve been captivated by Louise Erdrich’s writing for many years, since I first read her middle grade novel, The Birchbark House. This book was a favorite read aloud when I taught third grade.  Since then, I’ve read all of her children’s novels and most of her adult novels. For the past several days, I’ve been reading Erdrich’s National Book Award winning adult novel, The Round House (Harper, 2012).

Often called a “Native American Faulkner”, Erdrich has created in her fiction what Maria Russo calls an “indelible Yoknapatawpha, a fictional North Dakota Indian reservation and its surrounding towns, with their intricately interconnected populations” (New York Times Book Review, Oct. 14, 2012)

Erdrich uses the tools of a poet to tell these finely spun tales. Metaphor, imagery, repetition, and more are skillfully woven together to create passages like this one from The Round House:

“I lay down on the warm wood and the sun went right into my bones. I saw no herons at first. Then I realized the piece of reedy shore I was staring at had a heron hidden in its pattern. I watched that bird stand. Motionless. Then, quick as genius, it had a small fish, which it carefully snapped down its gullet.”

Such craftsmanship isn’t surprising, considering the fact that Erdrich began her writing career as a poet. Many of her poems can be read online, but “Advice to Myself” resonated with me in way the others didn’t after a week of attempting to clear away the clutter of winter.

Advice to Myself

by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.

Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator

and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.

Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.

Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.

Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.

Don’t even sew on a button.

read the rest here

Be sure to stop by Life on the Deckle Edge, where Robyn Hood Black has the Poetry Friday Round Up.

9 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself”

  1. Oh my, Catherine, this poem is so like Erdrich’s writing, detailed and so right! I think it would be good to post the poem in a variety of places, like closets and dresser drawers! There are many lines I love, but “buy safety pins” is ridiculously wonderful. Thanks!


  2. I have always adored Erdrich’s writing, ever since The Beet Queen. Love the idea to: ” Pursue the authentic-decide”. Yes, I’d rather do that than the dishes any day!


  3. Great advice! I love that she tucks this truth right in the middle of it all:

    “Your heart, that place
    you don’t even think of cleaning out.”


  4. I am not familiar with Erdrich’s work, but I will be seeking to learn more. You know you grabbed my attention with all of these tasks I could leave behind. If only I could live like that. I had to click into the poem and loved this:

    “Pursue the authentic-decide first
    what is authentic,
    then go after it with all your heart.”

    Thanks for sharing this. Maybe today I’ll skip the dishes and sit here pursuing the authentic.


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