Poetic Routes

Design, Uncategorized

For about a year now, I have been working on “Poetic Routes” (http://www.poeticroutes.com), an interactive, poetic map that pinpoints reflections and emotions on specific streets, buildings, and landmarks within Albuquerque.

I started this map in part because when I introduce myself as a poet, people often act as though I am a practitioner of a coded, intimidating art. Most people have been taught something about poetry—that syllables are important, say, or meter or form, or that there is some package of preexisting analytical literature that tells you a poem is “great literature” written by a “great poet” (who is usually male, once white, now deceased). Most people are not taught to first appreciate the poem as a work of surprising beauty. Nor are they taught to connect it to their world, to the streets they walk down, the roadrunners they see, the roasting chile they smell, the cottonwoods they admire, or the Goodwill on their corner.

One way to connect people to poetry is through maps. Maps are a potent tool to tell interactive stories. A map of a city can tell us how to get from place to another. As it does so, the map outlines what we will pass along the way: a topographical map might show us the mountain that stands between our goal and us; a Doppler map details the weather we’ll encounter along the way. But can a map tell a story that isn’t linear? Do we always have to know where we are going?

“Not all who wander are lost,” countered JRR Tolkien. Even though maps are being more recognized for their ability to tell complex stories, I wanted to explore the potential of a non-narrative, inclusive story about Albuquerque.

To pin a poem to an intersection on a map is to pin a moment of time. Together, those moments start to build an understanding of Albuquerque that is larger and more complex than the map itself. It is a network of architecture and culture, language and nature, concrete details and local realities, history and lived experience—as well as the interactions that occur in the audience’s mind when two or more of these are juxtaposed.

A map shows the relationship between two objects in space, but when those objects are memories, reflections, epiphanies, and lyricisms, the audience participates in creating that relational link. “Viewers are as much a part of the landscape as the boulders they stand on,” writes Leslie Marmon Silko.

It is my hope that through this poetic cartography, both emerging and established writers layer their voices with the history and cultural vibrancy of the city. My hope is that this project, like the city itself, will show a complex and ever-changing set of relationships with our natural and built environment. This is our map of Albuquerque.

You are here.

Ten Reasons Not to Date an Essayist


1. The essayist will take pride in neuroses. He will go on an on about the joy of scratching his ear with a pencil or brag about how long he hasn’t driven a car.

2. Everyday outings, such as going to the grocery store, will become overwhelming adventures. Huge adventures, like swimming with whale sharks off the coast of the Yucatan, will sound like everyday activities.

3. You will never know where she is. She will insist on trying a diverse range of activities, from accordion lessons to firing a machine gun, claiming it is research for a “Never Have I Ever” column.

4. You will realize that your world is more bizarre than a postmodern short story. You will start anecdotes with, “You can’t make this stuff up!”

5. You will not know whom you’re with at any moment: the character, the narrator, the persona, or the person. You will begin to wonder if you are a character or a person and sometimes narrate the recent past as if a memory from childhood. He will hear you and violate your POV.

6. She will continually write about her mother or her days as an addict or some ethereal night in a place you do not know. You will think that she’s working through a trauma; she will say, no, she’s working on a book.

7. He will make wild claims about disparate subjects, just to test argumentative structure. You will leave each dinner party wondering what he really thinks about cannibals.

8. In conversation, she will meander through thoughts, and just when you’ve forgotten what you were discussing, she will surprise you with a point that brings it all together.

9. You will read the manuscript and ask, “Did I really say that?” Neither of you will know for sure.

10. Time will stop.