Hundred Highways Tour #69 – #79: H-58, M-28, M-94, US-2, I-75, US-23, M-13, M-247, M-84, M-81 & M-46 to Theodore Roethke House

After a few days on the stormy shores of Lake Superior, we dropped down to one of my favorite bodies of water in the world: the northern reaches of Lake Michigan. In Vagabond Song, I describe it as, “crystalline, memory-cleansing, defying the existence of Gary and Chicago at its other end … this northern dream-bringer …” Despite the chilly day and cold water, we pull off of Highway 2, scramble down to the beach and plunge in. It’s my kind of baptism, and always has the effect of renewal, reawakening, reconnection with beauty and life. Miigwetch, Ininwewi-gichigami.

18 years ago: Marc & Al on Ted’s back porch. Photo by Mike Kish.

Downstate for my reading at the Theodore Roethke Home Museum. When I lived in Saginaw, I had keys to Roethke’s childhood home. The folks who ran the house said, “We like the idea of a poet hanging out here, writing poetry.” I spent many great nights with fellow Saginista poet Al Hellus, enjoying a jug of cheap wine, trading poems, scribbling in our journals and conjuring rows of greenhouses, long gone, in the dining room window’s reflection. It was during one of these sessions that Al and I came up with the idea to co-produce a chapbook of our Saginaw-rooted poems. We called it Saginaw Songs after Roethke’s poem “Saginaw Song.” It’s a purposefully silly poem, no “Far Field” (a favorite of mine and Al’s), but we often quoted it’s most fitting line:

In Saginaw, in Saginaw,
Bartenders think no ill;
But they’ve ways of indicating when
You are not acting well:
They throw you through the front plate glass
And then send you the bill.

The story is that this is a reference to the Schuch Hotel Bar where Ted took Dylan Thomas during his visit to Saginaw. Who knows if that’s true or not, but that place has a long history of drunk poets misbehaving. (No comment.)

After the reading, the festivities were in full swing with the most beautiful friends in the world, highlighted by the greatest spring rolls in the world, made with love by Tina from the one-of-a-kind deliciousness of Pasong’s Cafe. That alone was worth the entire journey.

Read more from the Hundred Highways Tour here.

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Hundred Highways Tour #67, 68: US-23 & I-75 to Bayliss Library

Being from the lower peninsula of Michigan, the U.P. feels like having a mystical, ghost-like sibling. Yes, we’re related, but something magical and unknown is going on up there. We trolls can visit, we can make jokes about Yoopers, but the land and waters of the Upper Peninsula will always amaze and mystify us.

Sault Ste. Marie has been a human habitation for 12,000 years. It is the earliest European settlement of the entire Midwest, beginning in 1668 with Père Jacques Marquette, who for probably no good reason other than childhood memories of school field trips and hours spent in genealogy libraries, reminds me of a synthesis of Saint Francis and my ancestor René Beaudin.

Driving into the Soo, I almost crashed when I saw my name flashing on a big sign above the bridge entering downtown. I’m used to my name in plastic or chalk at bars and coffeehouses, but damn, my name in lights at the entrance to a city. That’s what I call a welcome. Thanks SSM!

The reading at Bayliss Library was fantastic mostly because of some great Q&A from the crowd. My favorite question, which I didn’t answer very well on the spot, was about my revision process. I talked too much about logistics of revision and not enough about purpose.

More and more, I am learning that revision is about realizing that every word must sing. There is a Truth that one is after, and this Truth is based in music. Like a pure, in-key note, each word, phrase, line, stanza and poem must ring true. Occasionally, though almost never, this happens in the first draft. The rest of the time, we must work our asses and hearts off to find the words, and connections between words, and flow of words, that hold this Truth.

I don’t think this can be taught. There is no formula, no rule book. It’s about developing one’s ear the same way a musician and composer learn what is true: Listen. Read hundreds and great poems out loud. Read your own poems out loud, hundred of times. Listen.

Read more from the Hundred Highways Tour.

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Hundred Highways Tour #61 – 66: I-75, M-33, M-72, M-32, M-68 & M-27 to Purple Tree Books

We flew into Bay City, Michigan—my hometown, though barely recognizably so. All the empty shells of downtown buildings have been given new life with condos and boutiques and gourmet this-and-that’s. The long abandoned shipworks—gigantic, hulking structures with thousands of broken windows—have been replaced by “Uptown,” a shiny cluster of new restaurants, shops and office buildings. In a moment of surrealism, I have a chardonnay at a sidewalk bistro with luxury condos above that used to be the Mill End store with warped, creaking floors and an octogenarian elevator operator who took you to a basement full of wooden bins of hardware, fishing lures, penny toys and Army surplus gear, or upstairs to bolts of plain, durable fabric, cast iron frying pans and winter coats.

Sometimes the more that things change, the more they change.

Hiking 33 w/ mi Madre. Photo by Lisa Beaudin.

With my wife and my mom, I drive up M-33 (avoiding the drudgery of the interstate, the “unfreeway”) into the heart of northern Michigan, “Up North” as we say around here. It’s a reunion with many old and dear friends: quaking aspen and paper birch, staghorn sumac and bracken fern, jack pine and white cedar. I’ve made some new floral friends in my years in Montana, hiking the Absarokas and floating the Yellowstone, but none have become as close as these northwoods companions and comrades. Every type of tree or shrub or wildflower here flushes a covey of memories.

After a fantastic lunch at a diner in Onaway, we buy a homemade rhubarb pie and finish the drive to a rental cabin on Lake Huron, almost at the very Tip of the Mitt (an expression that makes perfect sense to Michiganders). Directly across from our twenty feet of beach, Bois Blanc Island spreads out across the horizon. A magical place that I visit in Vagabond Song:

“Beneath the Wild Rice Moon / Drunk & dancing with bats / on Bois Blanc Island / a bottle in one hand / a million stars in the other …”

These waters of the Straits of Mackinac are among the most beautiful and magical I’ve known. And of course, like everything of beauty and magic in this world, they are threatened by short-sighted greed. Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines, built in 1953, carry nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas per day across the Straits–the heart of 20% of the freshwater on earth. The pipes show structural damage that Enbridge lies about or dismisses. This is the same company that caused the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, in the Kalamazoo River, then ignored it for seventeen hours. No amount of profit, or any other perceived benefit, is worth risking the northern Great Lakes. Please get informed and take action here.

My reading at Purple Tree Books started out slow. Slow as in, no one there. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to be indoors on the first day of the holiday weekend. But a few people eventually trickled in and we sat around a table and had a great chat. I read a handful of new poems and an excerpt from Vagabond Song. We traded road trip stories and memories of shared places. As almost always happens with a small turn-out, it ended up being one of the best. Intimate and filled with good new connections. The kind of reading where I can thank each person by name. And really, that’s the kind of thing that makes a book tour memorable and this whole writing game worth it.

Thanks Emily, Christine, Leea and Mom! And happy anniversary to my Love and Truth: Lisa.

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