Monday, March 21, 2011
Walking has become a regular practice when the weather permits. Sometimes in winter I find myself longing, almost aching for warm weather so I can get out walking again. I felt that intensely throughout this year's long, hard winter.
My practice now is to go with an ipod and listen to music. It perks me up, and it fills my head with words, music, images. I pay attention when I'm walking in a way I don't when I'm driving by. I say hello to other walkers and sometimes exchange a few words. Walking is both solitary and civilized. It stimulates my thoughts and, as Hirsch argues and documents, it fuels the creation of poetry.
Here's a brief excerpt from the essay:
“Poetry is a vocation. It is not a career but a calling. For as long as I can remember I have associated that calling, my life’s work, with walking. I love the leisurely amplitude, the spaciousness, of taking a walk, of heading somewhere, anywhere, on foot. I love the sheer adventure of it, setting out and taking off. You cross a threshold and you’re on your way. Time is suspended. Writing poetry is such an intense experience that it helps to start the process in a casual or wayward frame of mind. Poetry is written from the body as well as the mind, and the rhythm and pace of a walk—the physical activity—can get you going and keep you grounded. It’s a kind of light meditation. Daydreaming is one of the key sources of poetry—a poem often starts as a daydream that finds its way into language—and walking seems to bring a different sort of alertness, an associative kind of thinking, a drifting state of mind.
A walk is a way of entering the body, and also of leaving it. I am both here and there, betwixt and between, strolling along, observing things, thinking of something else. I move in a liminal space. I recognize that walking often quickens my thoughts, inducing a flow of ideas, and that, as Paul Valéry puts it in ‘Poetry and Abstract Thought,’ ‘there is a certain reciprocity between my pace and my thoughts—my thoughts modify my pace; my pace provokes my thoughts.’”
Here's a walking poem I love by Billy Collins:
This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.
The next time you go walking, make a mental note of some of the things you see. Let them be random. After you get home, see if you can work them into a poem. You might use Collins' ambling method as your model, going from beginning to end.
I'm happy to say that spring is almost here, warm days have been hinted at, buds are on trees. Let the walking begin!