Walking and PoetryBy DUSTIN WHITLOCK,
You discover new things about yourself when you start a new job. I have found that sitting at a desk for eight hours is neither practical or good for my body. I have been taking every chance to make inquiries around downtown Forest in person like it is 1957. Outside, it is still August, 1957. Some of the buildings are different and the cars have hideous bodies in comparison, but nature is still the same.
For nature, it is just the same day as 60 years ago. Outside, the air is still the same, the crickets and frogs are a battle of jazz bands, and cicadas are sawing their strings in the trees.
It is good for the body to go for a walk — and when you are outside, at the pace of a walk, you see the world differently, you examine the small things and find peculiarities you have never seen driving through the same area every day.
I write the majority of my poetry outside, and when I have trouble writing I will take a walk and go shopping for images. I go outside and take the time to explore the sounds and watch the animals. Poet, Michael Longley said, “If I knew where my poems come from, I’d go there (and wouldn’t come back).” The last part about not returning may have been added by other poets that I have heard retell this quote repeatedly. The question of where does poetry come from is one that all poets must wrestle with during their time searching for their voice. The best answer I have found for myself is nature — not the heart and not feelings. Poetry is images that speak. And the images I most often choose are the things that are timeless — the things that existed before us and will continue after the green swallows up our buildings and streets.
I cast the immortal elements as the mundane objects of our human lives. I like to bring the cosmic down to humanity and see nature — the fog, the mist, the seasons, and life in the paper viewfinder of our temporary civilization. The clouds are a shower curtain thrown open after a rain and the sun steps out nude and clean at dusk. The tomato plants as tired commuters on a train, saggy in their rib cages, and holding themselves upright by the strap on the bar.
I like to sit outside in the backyard like I am this evening and write in my head before I touch pen to the page or sit at the keyboard. If one sits down with the blank page to write without first writing in the mind, the page stays blank. The words have to already be there when you sit down. The keyboard is not where the magic happens. It happens when you get away from the keyboard and go out for that walk.
You have to get out in order to see the squirrel dash across the fence and up the magnolia tree with a green Roma tomato clutched in his jaws; fleeing like a child from the darkness after turning out the light in the basement and furiously charging up the stairs.
Dustin Whitlock can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.