What Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge says in Poemcrazy, her excellent book of poem-prompting, is what I would say: "For me, poetry is related to walking. Words and images fill me when I wander somewhere alone." Like she says, "poems hang out where life is," and that's mostly in motion. There's something new around every corner, over every hill. Even on familiar walks, there's something new if I look hard enough.
A few years ago I was at a legal conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a new place for me, the downtown. It was lunch time so I set off walking, a poem walk that is, my first poem walk. I just wrote down what I saw -- words and images -- and then, sitting in a cafe, I saw it take some shape. Like this. . .
Listen to me, Solomon Juneau.
I am on a mission from God.
I am an extra-terrestrial,
a wide-eyed wanderer
See me there? Here comes a
santaclaus man looking worn and
frail, an overdressed rabble of a
man, bearded, half-blind, under-
nourished, with a sack of treasure
on his back.
Yes, I just touched down, Solomon Juneau,
on this blue end of Milwaukee, only
visiting this planet. Call it
Terra firma. Earth.
I'm walking on the solid
flesh and dirt of life.
Lapham. Becher. Waukesha.
I dodge the word puddles, the
splash of image, tripping over
profundities and wonders.
Can you hear it, Solomon Juneau?
Can you hear the music of the poet thinking?
Van Buren. Marquette. Grand Avenue.
A black man peers from
behind a dirty screen.
(Hear the silence speaking?)
A woman sunbathes, workers
lounge, winos loll.
(Can you feel the wonder?)
In the Cafe Leon a
woman sips, motion, shrugs,
dismisses, her upturned laugh
rippling through the air.
The air is pompous-smelling,
magenta in all its hipness, the
people poised and chic. And I,
I am the meek and minding.
I eat, listen, spy.
In the cafe, on the street,
I gather the pearls of conversation,
mused by my wealth.
I am king for a moment,
resplendent in my humanness,
carrying my sackful of words,
my rattles and my rhymes.
I might be accused of metaphoric dementia ---
diagnosis: too human, naked, unashamed;
prognosis: animal skins and fig leaves.
Are you watching Solomon Juneau?
See me spill my words?
Watch me unwrap these packages.
I'll fashion up some truth.
I am an extra-terrestrial ---
meteoric, metaphoric poet.
Yet, really, Solomon Juneau,
I'm just human
(and I need to get back to work.)
(By the way, Solomon Juneau is, I believe, one of the city fathers. He was on a big statute by the edge of Lake Michigan. Then again, it's been so long, I may have it all wrong.)
Try a poem-walk sometime. You might just notice something for the first time. Write it down. Poems are word-music; they have to move. You move, and they will come.