National Poetry Month– Starting from San Francisco and continuing in Maryland

April is National Poetry Month. I began the month-long celebration by starting from San Francisco (to appropriate the title of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s book). I had been there for the American Association of Geographers’ (AAG) annual conference, and while I spent a lot of time focused on traditional geographic topics, there was also time for literary activity. To start, I made the ritual trip to City Lights Books where I soaked up literary history, browsed the poetry shelves, sat and read, and bought three books: “Where River Meets Ocean” by Devorah Major, “How to Paint Sunlight” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and “Lines of Defense” by Stephen Dunn– two San Francisco poets and one East Coast (Frostburg, MD) poet. The literary tour continued with a beer at Vesuvio’s, the bar where the Beats often hung out, located just across Kerouac Alley from City Lights.

Geography and literature merged at the AAG meeting. There’s been a move afoot within the discipline toward a more creative approach to writing about geographical topics. You Are Here: The Journal of Creative Geography (in which I’ve published) was in the vanguard, the AAG sponsored several books on GeoHumanities and geography and literature, geopoetics sessions sprung up at various annual conferences, but the movement has come to full fruition with the launch of the journal GeoHumanities. There were sessions on geography and literature, geohumanities, and geopoetics scattered throughout this year’s meeting, as well as a GeoSlam open mic session. That session was well-attended; it was nice to hear what other geographers are doing with poetry and creative writing. I read four poems in that session: “Jessup,” “Bates and Third, Northwest,” “Four Geographers Find the Quintessential Baltimore Rowhouse,” and “Copacabana.”

I left San Francisco on Friday, April 1. Sitting at the San Francisco airport, I remembered that April is National Poetry Month. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Poetry as Insurgent Art” and “Starting from San Francisco” came to mind and I decided that since I had copies of poems with me, I would leave a trail of poems as I made my way home. I chose six poems, added the copyright symbol and my name, and wrote my website’s url on each. For San Francisco, I chose “Listening to a Chinese Folk Tune on the Internet, I Think of the Old Man Playing an Erhu in San Francisco’s Chinatown…,” “Musica Universalis,” and “Copacabana”– one set in San Francisco, one philosophical, and one providing social commentary. For Chicago (where I changed planes), I left behind “Thoughts While Sitting On the Beach.” While it’s not Chicago-related, I did write it along the shore of Lake Michigan (on the Michigan side). And, in Baltimore, I left “Bates and Third, Northwest” (set in DC) and “Thoughts While Sitting Along the Lower Potomac,” both more suited to the Baltimore-Washington area than the other two locations.

I don’t know whether any of these poems will be read or what might happen to the sheets of paper left behind. I will be thrilled if they are read and the readers find their way to my website. But, in the end, even if no one reads, there was the thrill of being a poetry insurgent of sorts, leaving words in spaces as I moved across the country. Geography and poetry. Poetry placed in spaces. A fitting end to a week of geography in San Francisco and for the beginning of National Poetry Week.

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