lessons from a distance

lessons from a distance

A Lesson With Lauren Slaughter

I rarely let a semester go by without engaging in some way with a version of the following writing exercise, which uses the A.R. Ammons poem, Corsons Inlet, along with his wonderful essay,  “A Poem Is a Walk,” in which he describes four essential ways taking a walk is similar to writing a poem:

  • “Each makes use of the whole body, involvement is total, both mind and body.”
  • “Every walk is unreproducible, as is every poem. Even if you walk exactly the same route each time—as with a sonnet—the events along the route cannot be imagined to be the same.”
  • “Each turns, one or more times, and eventually returns.”
  • “The motion [for both poems and walks] may be lumbering, clipped, wavering, tripping, mechanical, dance-like, staggering, slow, etc. But the motion occurs only in the body of the walker or in the body of the words.”

In these days of social distancing and quarantine, for many of us taking a walk and enjoying the outdoors is pretty much the key to sanity. So, next time you take a walk, why not let it be the beginning of a new poem? Allow Corsons Inlet to be the inspiration for your new poem. Note the freedom with which Ammons explores the landscape of the page in his poem, which in many ways seems to replicate a walk along the shoreline. Note, too, his attention to his physical surroundings as well as the wanderings of his mind.

So, for this exercise, Take a long, slow walk. The more meandering—the more aimless—the better. Bring a notebook with you and jot down not only sensory information, but also intellectual and emotional information, too. What do you see, smell, hear, taste, see, think about, dream about, wonder about, get annoyed about, worry over? You are recording not only sensory information, but also intellectual and emotional information, too.

Then, using Ammons as your inspiration, write a poem of at least thirty lines that uses your notes to help you write a poem describing your walk. Experiment with line length and use the “white space” on the page to help convey certain physical and metaphysical aspects of the walk. This should not be an evenly spaced and organized poem, but instead should be an investigation of both inner and exterior landscape.

Lauren Goodwin Slaughter is the author of the poetry collections, a lesson in smallness (National Poetry Review Press, 2015), and Spectacle (Panhandler Books, forthcoming). She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and winner of RHINO’s Founder’s prize. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Image32 PoemsTupelo Quarterly, Sporklet,  On the SeawallHampden-Sydney Poetry Review, and Kenyon Review Online among many other places. She is an associate professor of English at The University of Alabama at Birmingham where she is also Editor-in-Chief of, NELLE, a literary journal that publishes writing by women. More at www.laurenslaughter.com.