Just Start

Posted: February 23, 2010 in Poetry

First off, I need to say that this will be my last update for a week or so. Tomorrow I am embarking on my first ever tour! I am joining the Recipe for a trip to Southern Ontario where we are doing six shows and two workshops in six days. Should be fun!

CONTEXT: December, 2007

In some ways, Why Art? is my most successful poem.
In other ways it is this one.

This is the second poem that grew directly out of out trip to the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Halifax. One of the things that the organizers did was bring a panel of creators to a local high school, to talk to the students. The Spoken Word Canada (SpoCan) board meeting was held at the same school. At the time I wasn’t a board member so when the meeting pared down to active members only, some of us ducked into the school auditorium balcony to watch the panel.

I heard talk about how important it is to start young.

That was so at odds with my personal experience that this poem grew.

And then it grew more.

Despite having some sort of mental block that stops me from memorizing the thing, a LOT has come out of this poem.

(I have told this story a number of times, so if you have heard it, feel free to skip ahead…) 🙂

– My first ever solo feature happened at the first Lanark County Slam in Carleton Place. I did around six poems, including this one. The slam was won by future super-star, Emily Kwissa.

– Nadine Thornhill was hosting a Capital Slam when I slammed this poem. I later found out that she was having serious problems with a play she was writing for the Fringe Festival. The poem left her in tears. At her request, I wrote the poem out. She printed in and taped it to the inside of her play book to use as inspiration.


– Danielle K.L. Gregoire invited me to be a ‘celebrity judge’ at the Lanark County Slam Finals in Almonte. When I got there, we were milling about when a woman (whose name has slipped my mind… Nancy?) called me over to hear what she had just heard. She introduced me to Rick Kwissa, Emily’s grandfather. He was the person who brought Emily to the Slam back in Carleton Place so was there to hear my set.
He told me that it changed his life. He had recently retired and was somewhat aimless. He told me that Just Start changed the way that he looked at the world around him and made him realize that he could grab life and do whatever it was that he set his mind to. The fact that he was no longer 20 meant NOTHING.

Wow. WOW. The idea that my poetry could have that sort of impact? Wow.

– Jump forward to the next season of Lanark County Slams. Ruthanne and I drove Kevin Matthews out to feature at another Slam at Carleton Place. When we arrived (a little late) I heard some people mumbling about me being there. I didn’t know why since I wasn’t even going to perform.
At the open mic segment they called up… Rick Kwissa. He had written a book of short stories. Before he read one he wanted to thank the people that made him feel like he could do it. He thanked Emily for being a constant inspiration. He thanked Danielle for creating the environment for creativity that led to all of this. And he thanked me for letting him know that he could do it and being such an inspiration to him.
I almost started to cry.

– It doesn’t end! Last week I was helping Danielle with a workshop for new poets. She asked me to come out and perform Just Start, knowing that it wouldn’t all be youngsters at the workshop. A woman who was just dropping off her daughter decided to stay when Danielle invited her. After I performed she told me, “I usually think of creativity as something for my kids. Thank you for reminding me that I can do it too.”

All this from one little poem. It isn’t even a poem that I think of as one of my better written poems… but reactions like this make me feel like I am the most successful poet in the world.

    Just Start

When I was in high school
I wanted to be a writer.
It was the first thing
I really wanted to be
Since my grade school flirtation
With accountancy.
It may seem odd that a
Ten year old would want to be
An accountant, but I really
Liked numbers, which made me
Want to be an accountant
The way some kids want to be
Firemen – because of the
Cool red trucks.
Later I realized it was the
Patterns in numbers that I really liked
And that words led to even more
Interesting and intricate patterns.

I wanted to write a post-punk novel
On the complexity of being an outcast
Teenager in a world that was rapidly
Spinning into a maelstrom of chaos.

Either that or Spider-man comics.

I did everything I could to be a writer:
I read a lot, I studied other people,
I tried to make wise post-secondary choices
So that I wouldn’t use the
Introductary ‘starving’ before the
Explanatory ‘artist’.

I did everything that is, except write.

Writing was too much work.
I had no voice.
The things I did write were pastiche,
And often not even of writers I enjoyed.
My highest regarded story
From a coleege creative writing class
Was something I wrote on a dare
After mocking a friend’s
Stephen King collection.

I despaired that the world of writing
Was not for me.


When did you start writing?
Or you? How about you?
Or drawing, painting, singing, sculpting,
Or more importantly,
Why have you not started?

What do you have trapped inside
That needs to come out?
I thought I had no voice.
I do, I just wasn’t listening.

#Don’t worry if it’s not good enough
For anyone else to hear
Just sing#, shout, write, dance, paint,

I listened to a panel of creators
In a high school auditorium
Tell the students how important
It was to start young.

It was the right message
At the right time.
It was the right voice
Speaking to the right ears.
Too bad it wasn’t true.

I started writing fiction again at 33.
I wrote my first slam poem at 38.
I don’t know why I botherd
Because it was clearly too late.

Wayson Choy released his first novel at 57.
Alex Haley’s first book came at 44.
Maya Anjelou was 41.

You don’t have to be a child prodigy
To need to create.
There is no window of opportunity,
Or rather there is,
But it lasts a lifetime.

If you have something to say,
Say it.
If you don’t have anything to say…
Dig a little deeper.
Opinions and feelings shouldn’t be
Assigned to us like Driver’s Licenses.
They bubble from within
Even if they have been tamped down
And sealed away.
Ease off on the valve
And let your steam of creativity
Join our stream of conciousness
And change the world
Just by being part of it.

Experience matters,
But we all have the same amount:
One lifetime, in progress.

So start writing at 15 or 50.
Start drawing at 9 or 90.
It is never too late
And it is never too early.

What is the right age?
No such thing.

Don’t wait for the big idea
That will make you famous.
Don’t give up your dreams
Because your time for dreaming has passed.

Don’t start young
Don’t start old
Don’t start fast
Don’t start slow

Just start


As I said, there will be a break of a week or so but when I come back I will do the poem I performed at the late, lamented CBC Poetry Faceoff.

  1. nadinethornhill says:

    I’ve been waiting for this post with bated breath. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way my heart caught in my chest hearing you speak these words. I felt like you’d written this just for me and if I had to guess, I bet everyone else you mentioned above did too.

    There’s nothing like hearing your voice driving this piece, but the words have their own power. Even though I’ve read it a hundred times, seeing it here, the tears are welling up again.

    Thank you.

  2. jessicaruano says:

    I love this poem, too. Even at my age, I feel like I should have been much younger to begin any number of things. But I’ve seen such great examples (yourself, included) of people who start things a little later in life and are FABULOUS at it.

    I suppose I could learn to play a fourth chord on the guitar…

  3. Tammy says:

    I love this piece, glad I got to hear it again so recently.
    Glad my daughter got to hear it!

    I was 42 when I first heard of spoken Word poetry, 43 when I wrote my first Slam piece, 44 when I went to Nationals, just about to roll over another year and just getting started!

    Have a great tour RustMan, say hi to the guys for me.

  4. […] I am the Uncle Sam pointing outwards Asking you to find what makes you, you. But where is the Just Start For the just missed. As the mists of time pull tighter And youth seems wasted On practicality and […]

  5. […] DID cry when Nadine spoke about how much I had impacted her life. She went up and hit me with Just Start, telling the story of how much in meant to her and how it has helped her get through some tough […]

  6. […] I was young, I wanted to be a writer. (Wait, am I starting to perform Just Start now? […]

Leave a Reply to The Fifth Beatle « Rusty the Poet Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s