Finding poetry in the voices of Americans
Woman walking across country to draw inspiration from those she meets
Aspiring poet, recent college graduate, and New Jersey native Margaret wasn’t satisfied.
Although she majored in English and received a poetry certificate, her own work felt constrained.
“I’d been trying to write poetry for a while, and I felt the poems I was writing were all very much kind of about me, about someone who had grown up in New Jersey and had this very specific experience in life,” she said. “They felt kind of separate from a lot of questions I had about the country at large, parts of the country I’ve never been to, who lives in the country. I wanted to combine my interest in poetry with my interests in what’s going on in country.”
So in August, setting off from the shores of Delaware, she began a new project, on foot and pushing a jogging cart, to find the voices of an America she didn’t know, in hopes of finding a new voice for her poetry.
Seven months later, her walking path took her through Marion County. Joined for the third time on the trip by her older sister Eleanor, they came in from the north, stopping Sunday in Ramona.
They met sheriff’s deputy Bronson Shipman, who went there to check out of a report of suspicious women walking.
“I thought they were very nice,” Shipman said.
Shipman gave Margaret the phone number of someone he knew in Ramona and encouraged her to call if she needed help. Instead, the call landed Margaret yet another interview to fuel her poetic vision.
Monday, the pair walked down the Pilsen road to Marion.
She hiked across Missouri on the KATY trail, and prefers trails because they’re less busy and don’t have traffic, but in Kansas she’s used the roads.
“The nice thing about Kansas is there doesn’t seem to be a ton of cars anyway,” Margaret said. “I’ve been walking on roads and it’s been really beautiful so far.”
Margaret, who preferred not to give her last name, hasn’t walked the entire way because she often stays two or three days in a town doing interviews. Occasionally she’ll get back on her self-imposed schedule to reach the West Coast in a year by hopping a bus.
“I tend to take buses in places more sparsely populated,” she said.
So what is Margaret doing with all of the material she’s collected through her interviews?
“I’m cutting together their words into poems,” she said. “It’s definitely developing as I go. Right now I’m just experimenting, so I have some that are a lot of different people on one subject, some that are a lot of different subjects but all people from one town, some that are people from all over, and some that are one person, one poem. I’m trying to just kind of write a lot right now and at some point go back and see what works and doesn’t work.”
She has camping gear and sometimes camps out. Often when she reaches a town, she’s able to make other arrangements.
“It’s been really wonderful to sometimes end up in people’s homes,” she said. “People have been really generous and just had me stay on their couch or floor. I feel pretty lucky that’s worked out a lot of times. Sometimes it’s nice if there’s a hotel or motel or a place in town to stay, or a campground. I’ve liked having a mix of places.”
She’s also like having her sister join her for stretches along the way.
“It’s only the two of us and she’s pretty much been my best friend my whole life, so it’s just nice to see her,” Margaret said. “In terms of the project, it’s been an incredible, unique experience and it’s sometimes hard to explain to people that aren’t there. It’s definitely nice to have somebody. She likes to hear about interviews and she appreciates the same aspects I appreciate.”
Margaret hopes to accomplish at least two things in her walk across the country.
“I hope that I’ll have a collection of poems made up of voices from across the United States,” she said. “I hope also that I’ve learned a little bit about the country and about how to listen to people and hear their stories.”
While she would welcome having her final work published, she knows how competitive it is, and if it’s not, it won’t lessen the experience she’s had.
“It’s been one of the most incredible years of my life so far,” she said. “It’s probably cliché, but it’s true. I’m exicted to see what happens in the spring.”
Tuesday, after another interview in Marion, the pair headed off down 190th Rd. toward Hillsboro. And from there?
“I’m kind of making it up as I go,” Margaret said.
Last modified March 14, 2018