Dear Blog Readers,
First I wish our Jewish friends a Hanukkah filled with light and peace, and I wish a blessed Advent season to our readers who observe it. This is the time of year when we think about love and light and miracles; a time when we celebrate families and friendships; a time when the word “peace” is often spoken. This is a time of year when we travel inward and outward spiritually. We think history, of others, and those who are in need. We live in troubled and challenging times, but the spirit of hope is a constant we can all embrace.
I wish you all the best blessings of this special time of year!
At this beginning of Hanukah and of Advent, I’m happy to share a wonderful prompt that my friend and fellow poet Nancy Lubarsky has written for us.
Nancy has been an educator for over 35 years. A retired school superintendent, she holds a Doctorate in English Education from Rutgers University. Nancy has been published in various journals, including Edison Literary Review, Lips, Poetry Nook, Poetica, Tiferet, Exit 13, Stillwater Review, Howl of Sorrow Anthology, Paterson Literary Review, Poetry Nook, Great Falls/Passaic River Anthology, and US1 Worksheets. Nancy received honorable mention in the 2014 and 2016 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, and Editor’s Choice in 2017. She has also been nominated twice for the Pushcart prize. She is the author of two books: Tattoos (Finishing Line Press) and The Only Proof (Kelsay Press, a Division of Aldrich Books).
Travel Poems by Nancy Lubarsky
Summer is over. Did you get to travel anywhere? Some of us, despite the pandemic, have managed to squeeze out travel, whether by car, by mass transit, or by plane. Maybe your reasons were to just get away, travel for work or to visit someone after far too long. Or perhaps you’ve been cooped up all these months and you keep reflecting on places you’ve been years ago, who you were with, and what it all means to you. (Perhaps your trips have been more utilitarian – to the grocery store or the doctor, no matter.)
Travel is such a rich subject for poetry. It’s a unique way to memorialize where you’ve been. Besides just taking photographs, you can create word pictures of your travels. Travel poems have been written from a variety of perspectives: some focus on the journey, some on the destination, some focus on someone the writer has encountered along the way, some focus on an object, a place or a souvenir that triggers great meaning or memory.
What follows are some excerpts from travel poems (in loose categories with lots of overlap) from some well-known and lesser-known poets (including a few I’ve written) with a brief introduction, just to give you some ideas and or inspiration. Except where noted, if there is an ellipsis, the complete poems are contained in the links at the end of this blog.
Sometimes getting there is as interesting than being there. Rita Dove is at the airport observing people as she waits to board. Bob Hickok describes his experience on a Greyhound bus. My poem is about a car trip where my family passed right by our destination!
I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge…
A few hours after Des Moines
the toilet overflowed.
This wasn't the adventure it sounds.
I sat with a man whose tattoos
weighed more than I did.
He played Hendrix on mouth guitar.
His Electric Ladyland lips
weren't fast enough
and if pitch and melody
are the rudiments of music,
this was just
memory, a body nostalgic
for the touch of adored sound.
Hope's a smaller thing on a bus…
You Just Passed the Red Apple Rest
The Red Apple Rest finally rested in
2007. The New York Thruway killed it.
People stopped going to the Catskills.
Every summer, when I was little, we
visited my aunt’s Monticello bungalow
but, truthfully, it’s a blur. The Red Apple
Rest is all I remember. Each roadside
billboard, strategically placed with a
prominent apple and decreasing numbers,
led us there on our journey along Route
17. We didn’t have to annoy my parents
with, Are we there yet? 25 miles to the Red
Apple Rest, 22 miles, and then 15, 5, 1 mile,
500 feet … Inside the car, our family had a
clear focus, a midway point, a distraction from
the long ride. The Red Apple was the perfect
place to stop, but we never did…
Who’s Along for the Ride
The people you meet along the way can impact the way you experience a place. In Major Jackson’s poem he describes his meeting with the poet Mark Strand at a café in Italy. In my poem, I focus on my experience at a synagogue in Cuba where I encountered a different man named Fidel.
for Mark Strand
canopies of green, unionists marched doggedly
outside The Embassy. Their din was no match
for light lancing through leaves of madrone trees
lining the Paseo then flashing off glossy black Maybachs
skidding round a plaza like a monarch fleeing the paparazzi.
Your voice skipped and paused like a pencil.
Layers of morning pastries flaked gingerly
then fell, soft as vowels, on a china plate. One learns
to cherish the wizened reserve of old world manners,
two blotched hands making wings of a daily paper
beside us between sips of café con leche, a demeanor
in short gentle as grand edifices along this boulevard…
The turquoise convertible, with the 1950’s
flair, drops us at a broken sidewalk in front
of El Patronato. Through locked metal gates
we see the paneled doors carved with the
twelve tribes of Israel. Years before, fifteen
thousand Cuban Jews caught whiff of a new
dictator, another upheaval. Most paddled or
flew to seek asylum. Those who remained
stayed silent. Left with nothing but their
birthright, they whispered it to their children.
This Fidel opens the gate, welcomes us. He is
bald, clean shaven, no army fatigues. Born
and raised in Havana, he maintains this
sanctuary with meager resources, waits for
the rabbi to circle back every few months…
Sometimes your journey is anchored to a special food, an object or an animal. In these poems Charlie Smith remembers a stuffed pastry (called a Crostata) in Italy, Laura Tohe stole a blue Impala in Arizona, and Tom Plante remembers a particular bird in Costa Rica.
Crostatas (complete poem)
rome I got down among the weeds and tiny perfumed
flowers like eyeballs dabbed in blood and the big ruins
said do it my way pal while starlings
kept offering show biz solutions and well the vatican
pursued its interests the palm trees like singular affidavits
the wind succinct and the mountains painted blue
just before dawn accelerated at the last point
of departure before the big illuminated structures
dug up from the basement got going and I ate crostatas
for breakfast and on the terrace chatted
with the clay-faced old man next door and said I was
after a woman who’d left me years ago and he said lord aren’t we all.
Blue Impala (complete poem)
That time I stole a blue Impala in Flagstaff
the first year they made those automatic windows, you know?
I was sixteen and I was cruising down the highway
Hot on the trail to Albuquerque
I was hungry
and I was howling, man.
It was like stealing the best horse in the herd.
For That (complete poem)
Someone asked the poet
where his inspiration comes from.
His hand reached up and he made a fist
as if he were trying to snatch an annoying gnat.
That reminded me of being asked
if I’d written any Costa Rica poems.
I stayed there for a week, ten degrees north of the equator.
Maybe I’ll know in a few years, I said.
The small yellow bird that enjoyed our deck at dawn
inspired me to write but wouldn’t say its name.
When I find out what it’s called, I’ll know
more than I did before. It’s not a swallow,
not a lark, not a vulture. It woke me at 5 a.m.
and taught me to love the dawn. For that I’m grateful.
A Look Back
Your memories of childhood vacations or trips with family (even day trips) are rich sources for reflection and writing. Richard Blanco revisits the Gulf Motel in Florida and it brings back such clear memories. My poem takes me back to one particular ride at an amusement park.
Looking for the Gulf Motel
mother should still be in the kitchenette
of The Gulf Motel, her daisy sandals from Kmart
squeaking across the linoleum, still gorgeous
in her teal swimsuit and amber earrings
stirring a pot of arroz-con-pollo, adding sprinkles
of onion powder and dollops of tomato sauce.
My father should still be in a terrycloth jacket
smoking, clinking a glass of amber whiskey
in the sunset at the Gulf Motel, watching us
dive into the pool, two boys he'll never see
grow into men who will be proud of him…
Our guide stayed upright as he talked.
He made it look easy. But people began
to slip. We held onto the rail. My parents
struggled to stay balanced. I can’t
remember much about Freedomland, an
amusement park in the Bronx. My parents
weren’t well off. They had health issues.
We rarely went anywhere. But we went to
Freedomland every year for the five years
Travel can be a great source of humor. Read how Bob Rosenbloom compares his view of the Grand Canyon to a thick deli sandwich. Billy Collins shares his stories about his travels by telling you why he is so happy to stay home.
When I went sight-seeing, I couldn’t
get over how much the eroded rock
looked like layers of corned beef
and pastrami, the redder rock, the meat,
the paler, in-between, outcroppings,
layers of fat my mother made a point
of asking me to ask the guys at the deli counter
to cut. It should never have been an issue.
Sometimes they did. Other times, they didn’t.
My mother would let me know how I did each trip…
Now it’s your turn to write your travel poem. See if the following prompts can help:
What did you hate about travel? Can you use Billy Collins’s poem as a model and describe why you won’t ever travel again through the places you’ve been.
For those of you who’ve been cooped up for the past few years, think about when you did final venture out. What was that like? Can you capture your fear or trepidation, your relief that you were finally “on the road”? What object, person or experience most captures that moment?
In all of your poems, pay attention to the words that these poets use to describe their travels. In so many of them, they bring us to the seat right next to them, experiencing what they experienced with rich description and sensory detail.
Perhaps you can start out trying to model one of the above poems, or use one of the themes in these poems as a springboard to write your own.
Poems in Their Entirety:
Thank you, Nancy!