August 4, 2011KR BlogKR

Poetry in Motion?

1600 miles gives one a lot of time to think. One thinks about a lot of things–about the lack of herbage or the surfeit of it, how few or how many clouds seem suited to a city or state, how many rivers one has to cross between Denver and Atlanta, the number of miles till the tank is empty, till the dog has to get out again. Thoughts pass through like cars, like vans, like tractor-trailers. But always there’s the road, so there’s also always one thought, however many other thoughts there are.

And so, a drive has always seemed to me a great way to unite otherwise unrelated places or unrelated ideas. A drive is a situation, a moment that will collate whatever enters it. And a drive is also a narrative. Many elements are drawn together–and though one may claim that the end is the goal, the definition, the only important thing, the way there is what makes the drive, not its having ended.1

For this reason, despite whatever recommends it, the brevity of the poems that appear in the advertising crowns of buses and metropolitan trains2 seems wrong. If the bus route or the train line are drives–are lines, are plots–these poems rarely have the chance or the density to achieve as much as the trip.

A poem like A. R. Ammons’s Sphere–which does not explicitly conceive of itself as a road poem though it’s subtitle (“The Form of a Motion”) indicates an interesting in movement and though it ends “we’re sailing”–seems better suited for travel. You can’t read all of it on most trips (nearly 2000 lines winding over nearly 80 pages), but it is divided into sections, however artificially, so you can dip in and out of it, enjoy a moment like a passing thought on the drive, though the road goes on, thus:


I wouldn’t be surprised if the radiance we talk about isn’t
that part of the structureless lust that rising from the
depths gets by all the mechanisms of mediation and, left over,

feels like religion, the heights visited; that is, the route
from energy to energy without frigging, an untainted source
with an untainted end: when the professor rises to require

structure in the compositions, he invokes a woman: he wants
shapeliness intact, figure shown forth: dirty old
man hawking order and clarity: but if he would not

be dark, what a brightness! though I am not enjoying the
first day of spring very much, it is not with me as it is
with my friend George, spending his first spring in the grave:



windbaggery, snag-gaggling, yakety-yak, fuss: if you dig
a well, steen it well: earth’s fluid: it moves: any
discontinuity imposed, opposing the normal intermingled sway,

must be chocked full of resistance: and with a well, one
can’t count on the mechanisms that stay by yielding to the
sway: but if a well, steened well, can stay, it can be

caused to bring together the truly fluid from the so-so:
precise imposition leading to separation, an unmuddling of
clarity, a purification and cleansing invested with identity:

from bunkum and hoarse gol-danging surgical nicety can remove
a truth’s modest pleasantry: between the mixtures and
distinctions, what is economy to prefer: a cheap bulk of



slush or a costly drip to drink: it is a choice imposition
imposes: for myself I’m tempted to let the well
cave in at times and the water stand to my thirst: I

never did like anything too well done, a scary invitation
to catastrophe: a bright challenge to the insuperable forces:
let it all mosey: there is no final resistance: nor any

endless going along: if nothing in us, under us, or around us
will redeem us, we’d better get used to the miseries: at least,
unbuffaloed about the outcome: well, make the well well or

don’t: (it has never occurred to me to face the terror but
as to how to hide from it I’m a virtual booth of information):
come to think of it I don’t have much smell in my works:


On the long drive–and in the cramped space of the public transit vehicle–distractions balance the underlying focus, and Ammons’ poem, as it imagines motion, embodies this interdependence between drive and detour, between road and mile.

So, if buses and trains won’t have stacks of books in them, why don’t we at least have some pamphlets that offer something more substantial to read?3


An off-the-cuff-and-therefore-partial list of road poems4

  • Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
  • Muriel Rukeyser, US1
  • Allen Ginsberg, “Wichita Vortex Sutra”
  • Michel Butor, Mobile
  • James McMichael, “Itinerary”
  • C. K. Williams [insert title here]
  • Gabriel Gudding, Rhode Island Notebook
  • Betsy Andrews, New Jersey


Once the road is over, once it is no longer a route and a plot and therefore a narrative, it becomes a place–a place in which the poem curls its extendables into itself, creates an interior and become a place for staying, for meeting, for resting, as here:

Flux Film 001 | Morse from Proper Medium on Vimeo.

Haiku/placard: not moving, but brief enough to be read, grasped, when in motion.


The place where the foot is severed5:


& so, an inward turn:

A. R. Ammons


I look for the way
things will turn
out spiralling from a center,
the shape
things will take to come forth in

so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
totally its apparent self:

I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will

not the shape on paper–though
that, too–but the
uninterfering means on paper:

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.




1As Paul Ricoeur writes in the Preface to Time and Narrative: “By means of the plot, goals, causes, and chance are brought together within the temporal unity of a whole and complete action.”

2Sometimes under the banner “Poetry in Motion.” How, I wonder, did this series begin, as its history asserts, with Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”?

3I proposed this in Denver, “Schedules,” poems folded to fit in the slots used for time-tables, and I imagined it would be interesting to get poets to take particular routes and write poems specifically for/about them–but it never caught on.

4No. I will not consider including On the Road in this list.

5Pace, Apollinaire.