Saturday, September 19, 2015

Poetry Prompt #33: The Traveler and the Traveled

When you think about it, life merely is a series of events that revolve around the arriving and departing of things, people, places, ideas, moments in time; a divergence of our many selves that, were they to be lined side by side, we could probably watch ourselves grow from one embodied entity into another.  How many lives we live!  And what's more than that...the many lives that are available to us.  Literally, we could choose to be anyone from anywhere.

Yet, logic tells us that we can't embody all these earthly presences.  We can't be everything and do everything and live everywhere and experience every single thing there is to experience.  Perhaps that's why storytellers and poets came to be...born of a desperate need to experience more.  The world is huge.  There's too many things to see and people to meet...this would be so even in the smallest of towns were we to look hard enough between the edges of each detail.  Just imagine how big the whole world out there is...the world outside our notebooks, or the nine-to-five jobs, or the familial roles that require so much of our precious time.

You don't have to leave your life...just pause long enough to glance!  To consider the chances.  Immerse yourself in details, and other lives, that live outside your comfort zone.

That is what this weeks' prompt is about...traveling outside ourselves, our homes, our everyday lives.  Going beyond the common and familiar.

I give you two options for writing, you can choose one (or do both, if you're feeling inspired):  be the traveller -OR- be the traveled.

Prompt 1:  Be The Traveller:

Go to a busy area where there's plenty of foot traffic.  Ideally, you want to go to:  a bus stop/station, a train station, an airport, or even an area in town where people meet to commute.  Perhaps there's a busy stop on a street nearby where pedestrians loiter or a buses stop to pick people up.  If you live in a large city, consider watching people converge, meet, and depart from trolleys.

Once you find your destination (maybe you live in a really small town so the closest you can get is a mall parking lot or a restaurant where people meet each other for dates, etc), I want you to watch people closely.  Observe them.  Look between the details.  Watch who they interact with and how they behave.  Jot down what you feel these reactions and interactions with each other really mean.  You can even create lives for certain people whom you see that look interesting.  This exercise may sound weird, but it's merely a form of people watching and it's one of my favorite ways to cultivate new material for writing.

Consider this poem for inspiration:

The Traveller
by John Berryman

They pointed me out on the highway, and they said
'That man has a curious way of holding his head.'

They pointed me out on the beach; they said 'That man
Will never become as we are, try as he can.'

They pointed me out at the station, and the guard
Looked at me twice, thrice, thoughtfully & hard.

I took the same train that the others took,
To the same place. Were it not for that look
And those words, we were all of us the same.
I studied merely maps. I tried to name
The effects of motion on the travellers,
I watched the couple I could see, the curse
And blessings of that couple, their destination,
The deception practised on them at the station,
Their courage. When the train stopped and they knew
The end of their journey, I descended too.

In this poem, John Berryman writes as a fellow traveller who is observing other travelers, sort of honing in on their situations, creating stories from his observations of their interactions.

Prompt 2:  Be The Traveled

If you choose this prompt, your poem will take a more personal approach.  You will write from the role of the person who is, or has, traveled.  You will tell of an experience, an observation you made of going somewhere new, experiencing an atmosphere outside your daily grind.

You can write about the very essence of traveling and what you experienced as you literally traveled by bus, train, plane, car, limo.  Speak about the interior of your space, or what you see passing by on the outside. How it felt, what you smelled or heard...use just one (or all of) your five senses to pull the reader into your ride there (or back) as Carl Sandburg did in the following poem:

by Carl Sandburg

Night from a railroad car window

Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light. 

Or you can focus on something you saw, or personally experienced/observed, as you traveled to a specific location, as John Balaban did in this poem:

Passing Through Albequerque
by John Balaban

At dusk, by the irrigation ditch

gurgling past backyards near the highway,
locusts raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods.

A Spanish girl in a white party dress
strolls the levee by the muddy water
where her small sister plunks in stones.

Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot.
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer.

Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm,
rocking the immense trees and whipping up
clouds of dust, wild leaves, and cottonwool.

In the moment when the locusts pause and the girl
presses her up-fluttering dress to her bony knees
you can hear a banjo, guitar, and fiddle

playing "The Mississippi Sawyer" inside a shack.
Moments like that, you can love this country. 

Both of these poems do an exceptional job immersing the reader into the atmosphere of traveling.  

And whichever prompt you decide to use, I wish you safe and happy travels (real, imagined, or otherwise!).