By Maria James-Thiaw
I am a cliché.
I admit it. The hours upon hours I would sit in cushy café chairs staring at Van Gogh prints or absorbing bebop, acoustic guitar or neo-soul over the sound of espresso beans in the grinder makes me that writer – the one feverishly finishing a manuscript in the corner of the neighborhood coffeehouse, imagining themselves the next JK Rowling.
It’s been done. The evenings wasted away talking with hipsters about all that’s hip, or snapping fingers to a favorite local wordsmith’s latest poetic rant are the moments I live for. They are a major source of inspiration, and yet, while hot mochas are indeed my muse, I still find that being a regular at the local coffee spot can get old after a while. The time comes when a poet needs to find inspiration elsewhere.
For me, that elsewhere has been France, where I took a VCCA poetry workshop in a beautiful and ancient town where you could touch, taste, and feel history everywhere. The place was poetry, from every curved cobblestone to the floating cottonwood, the thick-hipped maternal sculptures, and the mix of smells emerging from the soap maker’s shop. In 2015, after my second trip, I wrote that place – its scent, its people, its food, and its influence on me, a mere visitor.
The experience moved me to ask other writers, contemporary American authors well known for their work, “In what ways does travel impact your writing?”
Here is what they said:
“I use traveling as a kind of self-exile. I’m never able to fully write about the place I live until I am away from it, traveling to a place that’s new and unknown. Only then, with distance and even that little ache of homesickness in the heart, does a kind a clarity come to me. Only then do I permit myself the freedom to see what I could not see about my home/community/family, etc when I was in it. . .just one of the ways that traveling impacts my writing.” ~ Marilyn Nelson, award winning poet, translator and children’s book author.
“Familiarity breeds apathy. Even something as simple as watching a couple walk down the street or having a cup of coffee watching the rain fall becomes a new experience when my surroundings change. Travel keeps me alive to the tiny miracles and the epic beauty of even small and simple things.” Carla Christopher, author, publisher and community activist; Former Poet Laureate of York, PA.
“I do not write overtly about the places I physically visit. And I rarely write about the places where I live. But I do know that when I am actually moving through space on a tetherless voyage, writing moves with me and in me and is touched of course by the whole of those places.” ~ Lucy Anderton, published author and spoken word artist living in France.
“When I write on the road, I rarely write about my location. Most of my book YOU DON’T MISS YOUR WATER was written on the road, CA, Mexico and Italy, but the poems are grounded in my hometown of Rochester, NY, which is never mentioned.” ~ Cornelius Eady, prize winning poet, co-founder of Cave Canem Foundation.
“Travel is movement, and poetry is all about movement. I take dictation from the road, from the Garonne and the gulls. I listen for every new sound and transcribe new tastes. Travel is often lonely. My poetry is an ally and a friend, constant and porous. I’m in Paris now, alone with my notebook. It’s a consolation. My book, The Love That Moves Me, is all about being on the road, in the air.” ~ Marilyn Kallet, award winning poet, Director of Creative Writing at University of TN-Knoxville.