Hundred Highways Tour #80 – #98: I-95, I-76, NJ-42, NJ-41, NJ-47, CR-658, CR-655, CR-634, CR-654, CR-555, CR-557, NJ-40, NJ-50, US-9, NJ-109, CR-606, CR-626, DE-162, DE-1 to Rehoboth Beach Public Library

photo by Lisa Beaudin

We dropped into the Philly airport around sunset and went through a Kafkaesque car rental process–walking through a maze or corridors, missing buses, waiting in a long line only to find out it’s the wrong long line–until finally, blasting out into traffic and heading across the Walt Whitman bridge into New Jersey. It’s perfect that the 100 Highways Tour includes the Walt Whitman Bridge. Uncle Walt, who I quote near the end of Vagabond Song: “Bearded, sun-burnt, gray-neck’d, forbidding, I have arrived.”

It was a long, meandering drive through Jersey, mostly because, in an attempt to avoid toll roads, we became quickly, beautifully lost. We were heading mostly south and would eventually stumble onto a major highway that would zip us to our destination, so we just enjoyed the ride.

In my youth, this was always my goal in the northwoods of Michigan: the moment I realized I didn’t know where I was, everything became stunningly beautiful and fraught with possibility. Every moment was savored. I could enjoy the fantasy of simply not returning to the world of concrete and schedules. I could be a hermit, a Han Shan-esque wanderer, a feralite. Also, knowing that in the Midwest, getting lost would be a temporary state–when one could read the stars, knew how to secure shelter and water, make fire–made it not much more than a fun game. Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animal, there’s a road every mile or so and water everywhere. Now that I live in Montana, where the weather can kill you in summer or winter, where you can wander for days without finding a road, where bears and lions are very real concerns, I notice that my attempts to become lost aren’t quite so intentional.

We had a decent dinner and a few drinks at a friendly roadhouse that appeared out of the gloom like a dream, then an hour or two later, fell into the flow of U.S. 9, down into Cape May where we checked into a motel then ran across the road, ignored the “Beach Closed” signs and stood at the crashing edge of the Atlantic, still surly and fierce from the recent hurricanes. It’s humbling to be in proximity to such power. It’s good to be humbled by the natural world. It’s energizing.

Much of our problems and threats to survival stem from a severe lack of this type of humility.

The next day, we hiked around some coastal wetlands, glassing birds and learning the names of unfamiliar plants, before jumping the ferry across Delaware Bay into Lewes, the first city in what became the first state. It was here I found a great little bookstore, Biblion, and its friendly owner, Jen. We talked books and the book trade for quite a while, and then I asked her if she had anything on James Joyce. She sold me a great copy of Coping with Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, which is a great addition to my Joyce collection, but it was the stuff that wasn’t for sale that was really exciting, including a photo of manuscript page with notations, the original discovered locally, from the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses, and a large format duplicate of the photo of Joyce and Sylvia Beach hanging at her Shakespeare & Co. bookshop in Paris.

It was a fantastic visit that made me wish that I had booked my reading here.

Overall, the trip was great, especially a bike ride/bird-watching excursion through Cape Henlopen State Park, visiting with my wife’s family, the delicious seafood, meeting up with a cousin and her daughter at a great little Mexican cantina near the beach, the songs of crickets and mockingbirds, the beer tasting at Dogfish Head Brewery, the few days wandering the streets of Philly–with its murals and history and great live jazz at Time–and spending long, energizing moments in the humbling beauty of that surly and fierce Mama Ocean.

Read more of the Hundred Highways Tour here.

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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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