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.

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