poem #10: things that aren't there anymore
the old neighborhood
I’ve been in Pittsburgh this week, visiting my (vaccinated!) parents during my kids’ spring break. We were all desperate for a change of scenery, and the one benefit of teaching online is that the zoom boxes go anywhere with you. (But also: the work goes everywhere with you.)
I’ve been thinking about how re-entering your childhood home (ish, in my case - I lived in this house from 8th grade on, so my memories of living here are mostly angsty suburban flight) is its own kind of time travel. I still have trouble at the intersection that used to be a stop sign; they put in a light years ago, but I never look for it and often end up jamming up traffic. And people in Pittsburgh famously orient themselves by old landmarks - when we first moved to Pittsburgh and my mom, who has a terrible sense of direction, was trying to learn her way around, people would say things like, “turn left where the Howard Johnson used to be,” and she’d think, well if I knew where that was, I wouldn’t be asking you for help.
This prompt will ask you to explore an old landscape or neighborhood that was important to you, either via google maps or photographs, or in person. We’ll use Lynda Barry’s freewriting exercise again to get started. (I talked about Lynda Barry and the rationale for freewriting in prompt #6.) Credit again goes to Erinn Batykefer for the prompt and the Lynda Barry connection.
Prompt #10: Things That Aren’t There Anymore
Select a place that’s been important to you - the neighborhood where you grew up, an apartment where you lived in college, a city you visited with a friend. Visit it again using whatever means are available to you - an in-person visit, google maps, photos, your memories. Find an area you remember that has changed remarkably, and begin your writing there.
Begin your spiral with the image(s) of what used to be there and what's there now-- describe it fully. Begin the 9 minutes of writing with the phrase “I am giving directions; I am trying to tell you how to get where I am” with the idea of telling an outsider how to get around using landmarks that don't exist.
If it helps, you can think of this poem as a kind of ode - a poem in praise of the place that used to be. You could title it Ode to the Old Howard Johnson or Ode to the Eat n Park, for example.
Sharing your work helps sustain momentum. I’ll leave the comments open, so you can share a poem title, a snippet of a line, or something else about your writing life.