Creative Population Geography

Creative Population Geography

I’ve assigned my population geography students at George Washington University a creative geography/creative writing exercise. Their assignment is to write about some aspect of the population geography and demography of (preferably) the DC area, but to do so in the form of a poem, prose poem, creative nonfiction essay, or some other literary or creative form. I created this assignment mainly because I have to cancel a class while I’m in Tucson giving a talk at the University of Arizona’s Geography Department about the geopoetics of the US 1 corridor in Howard County, Maryland (I’ll be participating in the Tucson Festival of Books that weekend).

As an example for my students, I wrote the following poem:


All DC circles and flows
around this point,
this center of population,
calculated as if all were equal,
balanced on a flattened plane of the city,
where topography has no place,
hills do not define,
rivers and creeks do not divide.

When Ellington walked these streets
(before he was Duke);
when Dunbar opened its doors,
this neighborhood was Truxton Circle.
East Shaw, Florida Park,
Bates Area Civic Association—
any of these names now,
or none, depending on who you ask.

This neighborhood looks nothing
like it did last time anyone counted.
Curbside dumpsters tell the story,
tallied in the detritus of renovation
of rowhomes bought by professionals
flowing back into the city.
Median income has nearly doubled
in ten years, the steady march of gentrifiers
east toward DC’s other river,
pushing numbers up,
only a matter of time
till they wash up against,
then climb Anacostia’s heights.

Demography is destiny.
And loss.

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