In less than a week, I’ll be in sunny Tucson, Arizona, giving a talk on geography and poetry– geopoetics– in the Geography Department at the University of Arizona. My trip to Tucson is primarily for the Festival of Books. Since the Geography Department is sponsoring my trip, they also asked if I would be the speaker at their weekly department colloquium. How could I say no? The Geography Department at Arizona publishes a literary magazine, You Are Here: the Journal of Creative Geography, and has ties to the Arizona Poetry Center and other programs promoting the integration of arts and sciences. It’s quite an honor, not only to have the opportunity to participate in the festival, but also to be a speaker in the department. My first published poem was in You Are Here, so in a way, this is like returning home. That poem was Jessup, which is a geographically-based poem, not only because it focuses on a particular place, but also because the focus is on the social, economic, and geographical processes that have played out there. Jessup led to other poems based along the US 1 corridor that focus on various aspects of a changing landscape and what is essentially suburban gentrification.
I spent a good chunk of the day today along the US 1 corridor taking photos to accompany my talk and my poems. The overriding theme throughout the photos and the poems is the contrast of the the corridor to the rest of Howard County. The US 1 corridor is the oldest in terms of development. The rough, unplanned look and feel contrasts with the orderly and careful planning and development that characterizes Columbia and other parts of the county. Howard is one of the most affluent counties in the nation; the affluence is clearly visible throughout the rest of the county. Not so, though, along the US 1 corridor, although that is beginning to change, as “luxury” apartments and garage townhomes are being built along the length of the corridor. In the process, land values are rising and lower income households are being pushed out due to a lack of affordable housing.
In addition to the redevelopment and new residential development that has been occurring along the corridor, there has been a demographic shift. There is a strong Hispanic and Latino presence along the US 1 corridor. I counted 12 Latino food trucks between Elkridge and Laurel– mobile pupuserias and taquerias. In addition to the food trucks, there are a number of Mexican and other Latino restaurants.
I’ll have to admit a certain fondness for the US 1 corridor. It’s ugly in spots– many places to be frank– but it is interesting. In many ways, it’s a geographer’s and a poet’s dream.