Monday, April 12, 2010

Hiking Over Trails of Poetry

I belong to a group that does a fair amount of hiking together. The hikes are usually scouted beforehand and rated as to the degree of difficulty involved. We don’t include (in that rating) areas with paved surfaces often specifically designated for walking, roller blading, or cycling. Such are simply walks or strolls. Hikes take place on natural surfaces.
Now there are a number of different terrains and types of trails that we encounter and rate. There is the well-traveled route, often a rail trail or other such path with more or less easy access and level progress, the kind comfortable enough to take a child in a wagon or stroller with little effort. Much of the journey can be covered walking abreast with a companion. Any trail consisting of mainly such is considered “easy.”

A “moderate” hike usually takes place in places where there are hills and/or ravines involved. Progress is often single file, the surface can be uneven and wind though trees and around rock; care must be taken with footing in places. It is excellent exercise and soothes the mind.

A “difficult” hike is one in which steep climbs or scrambles are likely to be encountered. Many of the local ones involve creek beds and deep ravines. There’s a saying that for one of these hikes you need all four limbs to get around. They can provide an exhilarating challenge, a change from the usual.
Then, of course, there are extreme hikes that require special knowledge, skills, and equipment. Activities such as climbing frozen waterfalls or traversing rock faces are not ones we would consider.


So what has all this to do with poetry? While hiking images suggesting poems will often come to me; again while working on a poem a sudden memory of something observed or experienced during a hike may lend to a poem’s clarity. And stepping aside, observing people’s involvement with poetry is much like identifying the levels of a hike.

The stroll or walk on prepared surfaces can be seen as the everyday experience of poetry, the stuff we encounter in greeting cards and such. Nice, but no challenge whatsoever.

The “easy” hike is one for which you prepare, leave your daily comings and goings. It is much like picking up a volume of poetry where you know what to expect but reading that is not part of your daily life. It can be a gentle, controlled excursion through a landscape not quite familiar but not threatening.

We can then compare the “moderate” hike to exploring poems or poetry that presents a challenge to us in its use of language, of form or lack thereof, of not immediately evident meaning. This type of poetry involves the mind as hiking terrain would the body.


The “difficult” poetry hike would be through material you might not consider poems. Even many readers and lovers of poetry have difficulty accepting such presentations as prose poetry, dub or spoken word. They seem to follow a different set of rules that seem to disconnect them for what we might consider the “norm” and thus engage all our attention and effort to make our way through. And here too, the journey can be one of discovery and exhilaration.

Even in poetry the “extreme” can be present, poetry that uses foreign or classical languages, that refers to obscure events or mythologies to make its way to meanings that still never seem clear.

And always it’s good to remember: one person’s easy is another person’s moderate. Difficulty in poetry as in hiking is subjective. What I suggest is that everyone should challenge themselves, in hiking and in reading poetry.

1 comment:

annaken said...

Those walks sound nice and Hamilton sure has a lot of beautiful spots to explore. I am glad that you are enjoying that group so much.