Tourist Poems

Today’s offering from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac is one of those odd little poems that impels the reader to do something sweet, strange and bold. It has the added bonus of giving you some great Yelp.com-style advice on where to get your caffeine if you’re ever in Seattle.

On a rainy day in Seattle stumble into any coffee shop
and look wounded by the rain.

Say Last time I was in I left my black umbrella here

Look positively reunited with this black umbrella

and proceed to Belltown and Pike Place.
Sip cappuccino at the Cowgirl Luncheonette on First Ave.

(Excerpt from “Black Umbrellas” by Rick Agran, from Crow Milk).

As I’m reading this poem, I’m thinking of a wild project a young reader might undertake — travel the continental U.S. using the advice provided by poems.

[Notice I don’t say “world.” Because, as I’ve learned, a project of this sort must be focused or it falls apart.]

[But what I really mean is: “the world” is too expected. Too many of us traveling the world already.]

[And what I really, really mean: for a very brief moment, please let this American writer (me) not panic about the need to be worldly. Let her not have guilt, and not feel terrible about her crippling fear of transatlantic flying. ]

Anyway–this hypothetical person would find the really good “tourist” poems, the ones where the poets have slipped in some good local flavor because, well, it sounds damned good. Those poems where the poet, in the process of writing, made a mental list of appropriate places and then choose the one with the most pleasing sonics. The place with the name that sounded the best rolling off of his or her tongue. And then, here’s the fun part: the traveler visits these places, soaks them in, and comes home with a really gorgeous list that he or she can rattle off to friends. If you’re like me and occasionally find yourself responding more to the sound of a travel story than to the story’s actual events, I feel this will appeal to you.

I wrote a New York poem in the spring. A mad one. I don’t know if it’s something I’m proud of, because it’s a New York poem. But I threw in Blue 9 Burger. And the original Kiehl’s that was down the block from the NYU dorm I lived in for a month. Blue 9 Burger. Kieeeeeeehl’s. Sounded good! (Sidenote: We have a Kiel Opera House here in St. Louis and they’re changing the name to “Peabody.” Like Peabody and Sherman. Putting “Peabody”‘s awesome time-travel associations aside, “Kiel” is a much lovelier name.)

Mr. Peabody is rocking those glasses.

Blue 9 Burger, NYC

I was very willing to include these great places in my New York poem, willing to recommend them through that inclusion without coming right out and recommending them. I have to love something to include it in the poem. Or hate it to the point of obsession. And that’s why you’ll never see me write a poem about, say, Bread Co (Panera to non-St. Louisans). I like Bread Co’s tomato soup (recently discontinued!), but I’m indifferent to the company as a whole. You can bet, however, that someday I’ll write about the Hi-Pointe Theater. Because I love it so I would pay rent to sleep in the aisles. I want to be the dog that sits in the front lobby. (Go there if you’re in St. Louis.)

The Concession Stand at the Hi-Pointe Theater, St. Louis

Alternate project idea: a city travel guide written entirely in verse. I’d at least like to see the face of the Fodor’s editor reading the query letter.


2 thoughts on “Tourist Poems

  1. Let her not have guilt, and not feel terrible about her crippling fear of transatlantic flying.

    Transatlantic flying? If my memory serves me, our voyage to Italy was delightful, despite being seated in the bulkhead .

    Let’s do this. I’m game if you’d like to spend a month in the south next summer, but you will have to drive.

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