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Cole Swensen reads from On Walking On

I like to walk, and I like to think as I walk, and I have read and even written as I’ve walked, though I usually stop when I start to write. Walking, even without the writing, has its stops, and its turns, its being lost and its being found. The poet Bill Kushner told me once that if I was ever stuck for something to write, I should just start to walk. Bill was a city poet who walked city blocks. “Every block you walk write a line and after fourteen blocks you’ve got a sonnet.”

On Walking On are poems about poets walking, Cole Swensen and others: Chaucer, Thoreau, Rousseau, Dorothy Wordsworth, Virginia Woolf. I typed out a few of them below; it always gets me closer to the the starts and pauses indigenous to a poet, and as I typed these out I thought about Cole Swensen’s last book, Landscapes On A Train, which was also written out of movement, the moment, contemplation in motion, losing sight of one thing and seeing another, inspiration walking, finding out, no destination but the going, foot falls conjuring rhythm, rhyme and reason, instant observations understanding something new. I heard Cole read her poems of discovery at McNally Jackson last week, took out my iPhone and started to record; please forgive that my hand is slightly moving because this is worth the listen. Enjoy.


You start with a single premise. For instance, “turn left.” And then you set out in
a straight line and engage the constraint (turn left) only and whenever a blockage
occurs—a red light, a T intersection, impenetrable clouds, a river, barbed wire, a
dog standing guard. Sometimes you go straight on for miles, while at other times
you seem to go around in circles, to the left.


Dorothy walking from Kendal to Grasmere and Grasmere to Keswick,
a mere 33 miles, from Afoxden to Lynmouth and back again for the sake
of a landscape, an internal painting, refining in brush strokes a new form
of breathing. She could breathe again, and wrote it up, notational: March 30:
Walked I know not where. March 31: Walked. April 1: Walked by moonlight.

Walked till blind. Walked by wind. Walked into time. April 2: Walked under
trees. April 4: Walked to the sea…A great commotion in the air.
Hunkeredwoman, dove-shapedas the hand takes onthe size and shape of a bird
across the pages of a journal:Walked in twilight.Walked inside.And was
neither heard nor herded, although I sensed the gathering forces trying to
gather up the indeterminate group of all things headed forward. I will sort them.


Cooler this evening, particularly crossing the bridges, where the wind picks up and is
making a mess of the surface pf the water. People walking, many tonight, and almost
in rhythm, as if it were a way of collectively resisting the wind. I stop and look over
the parapet, down onto the quay, where five pigeons seem to be marching in step in
a single, evenly paced line. I know this is only the projection of a human attachment
to order onto random avian behavior, but still it’s a remarkably straight line and
remarkably evenly paced.

On Walking On is published by Nightboat Books. You can check them out here:


Cole Swensen

To read more about Cole Swensen and her work, check out the link below:


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