March 24, 2016KR BlogBlogChatsEnthusiamsShort Takes/Mixed TapeWriting

“Perhaps / The truth depends on a walk around a lake”: On Walking and Writing

Wallace Stevens makes an assertion in the opening stanza of the seventh section of his poem “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” that has always stuck with me. It reads, plainly: “Perhaps / The truth depends on a walk around a lake, // A composing as the body tires…”

Originally published in 1942, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” is roundly considered Stevens’s momentous poem on the nature and definition of poetry: what that word means and how it should or can be represented. It’s an exceptionally dense poem, filled with Wallace Stevens lines written by Wallace Stevens. Yet I’ve always savored those ten words, “Perhaps/ The truth depends on a walk around the lake,” chiefly because they encompass my own writing habits. Like a lot of writers, I rarely write while sitting in front of a computer or staring down at a notebook and most of the worthwhile work that I do occurs while walking my dog, Beckett Long Snout. Beckett -ice cream

(I realize I’m not alone in this predilection. Stevens, who never learned how to drive, composed most of his poems while walking to work. And if you happen to be in Hartford, Connecticut and are a devout Stevens-ite, you yourself can take the 2.4-mile walk that the poet made twice a day, five days a week. It’s now known, of course, as The Wallace Stevens Walk. There are legions of other devout walk-writers as well, from Henry David Thoreau to Jane Austen to Williams WordsworthVenerable books have been written about the subject and, in support, science has duly played its part.)

Walk-writing, for me, begets creativity in the same manner as it did for the above writers—my mind fortuitously wanders, and what I deeply worried about while lying in bed earlier dissipates and now seems to be of no real consequence. Perpetually stopping in his tracks, Beckett sniffs everything, and I’m forced to stop as well, forced to reconsider my surroundings and my illusory possession of them. I keep either a blank sheet of paper or a poem that I’ve been working on in my back pocket and, as I have no real creative expectations, my mind unfurls itself; what I can’t do—or at least not very well—while tensely perched in front of my computer happens without my realizing it while walking the dog. Not thinking about having to write, I’m writing and writing I’m not thinking about everything else—job, relationships, monies, fears, hopes, happiness—that I normally think about when trying to write.

In the most recent episode of Marc Maron’s lauded podcast WTF, musician Todd Rundgren notes how some of his most acclaimed songs have, a la Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, come to him in his sleep. Upon waking, then, all he had to do was get out of bed and soothe what he had heard in his head into the world of audible sound. (Which to me sounds impossible, but I’m not Todd Rundgren.) My write-walking process isn’t nearly as subconsciously advanced as Coleridge’s or Rundgren’s, but it is similar in certain ways. By allowing myself not to get bogged down in actualities—I haven’t written a poem in weeks; I have to do this; I need to do this—I enact an opening in my head that seductively tempers my rational brain.

I also like the line “Perhaps / The truth depends on a walk around a lake,” though, because in it Stevens holds at length the notion that truth is universal, is carved in stone and forged with fire. Sitting alone in one’s room, pensive and alert, the truth is one thing. But walking around a lake, empty, adrift, it’s something else entirely. And “A composing as the body tires…” is a composing nevertheless; different from other types of compositions, surely, but potentially successful because of that very difference. I mean, my dog weighs 85 pounds. He pulls and pulls on his leash. So by the end of our walks I’m tired, happy to be done, but I’m also glad that I set out in the first place. If I’m lucky, something has changed in me and that change has enriched my thoughts, my conception of truth.