Poetry Goes for a Hike

Writing poetry is often thought of as a solitary inside pursuit. In this class, however, we’ll turn that on its heels and explore how the trail is a great place for poetry. Throughout the morning, we’ll find out how the physical act of moving through a desert environment may take shape on the page. Does one’s breath and stride affect the rhythm or line-length of the poem that comes? How does the energy expended through hiking take shape in language?

We’ll balance stretches of movement with time to sit and write. We’ll come to a rhythm where we’ll hike for about fifteen to twenty minutes, then stop and write for about fifteen to twenty minutes (with some variations of rhythm thrown in, of course!). Wendy and I will offer a number of prompts to get the writing going. For example, in one prompt we’ll write collaboratively like Wang Wei and P’ei Ti, two T’ang Dynasty poets who wrote from a shared wilderness environment in their "Poems of the River Wang"; in another, we’ll hike silently and compose in our mind while walking.

In paying attention to the ecology of the Sonoran Desert, we’ll also consider how a poem can be considered to have an ecology itself. We’ll enter poetry as energy transfer: from and through the poet, from and through the desert trail we’ll traverse. You’ll finish with a number of poem-drafts, which we’ll then meet to discuss on the following Wednesday. You can expect to end the hike both physically and mentally invigorated and refreshed, with a renewed vision of both poetry and the desert.

Like plein-air painting, writing in the field refreshes the spirit and creates indelible work. Join two poets (one of whom is also a professional hiking guide) for a moderate 3- to 5-mile hike. A chartered van will transport participants from the Poetry Center to the trailhead. The morning will be filled with poetry, bird song, scenic views, and writing exercises—with some physical exercise thrown in. Participants will attend to the sensory experiences of the trail and render them in poetry that respects and embodies wilderness, both inner and outer. A few days after the hike, we’ll reconvene in the Poetry Center’s classroom to discuss and review the work generated on the hike.

Prior to the hike you’ll receive a simple supply list. Please have suitable footwear (e.g., hiking boots) and be physically able to hike a moderate 3- to 5-mile hike over rocky terrain. The hike will take place in one of the mountain ranges surrounding Tucson (either the Santa Catalinas, Tucson Mountains, or Rincons). The specific trail will be chosen the week before the hike, based on seasonal trail and weather conditions.

What Students Say about Poetry Goes for a Hike

Wonderful! The exercise was great, the nature experience, the people – all very inspiring. It got me writing – I got four sort of poem embryos out of it, made friends, and talked about poetry in an unstructured way, spontaneous way.

The class exceeded my high expectations! Wendy and Eric rule.

The hike was wonderful, and since I usually have trouble writing poetry, I was happily pleased how well the outdoor setting helped me gain ideas and string words together.