In years past, travel writing existed as a form of escapism for those who could not afford to leave home. When Robert Louis Stevenson penned The Beach of Falesá it served to give many people a glimpse into foreign worlds; when Voltaire published Candide it had much the same impact. Further, a great deal of young boys’ literature during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries opened up further the imagination to ideas of adventure, to something that could not be had at home.
Travel writing has been a staple part of the furniture for hundreds of years, but what of poetry on the theme? I have taken the time out to select some of my favourites for you to cast your eyes over.
- Majorca – Dr John Cooper Clarke
‘They’ve got little bags if you wanna make a mess
I fancied Cuba but it cost me less
(Whose blonde sand fondly kisses the cool fathoms of the blue
What to say about Clarke? His poetry and humour pierced the bubble that too often surrounds the poetry world. He has the capacity to make poetry accessible to the masses. Originally an outsider looking in, Clarke has much in common with comedians who present a skewed slant on the world and current events, he is now a fixture of the mainstream. In Majorca he takes aim at cheap package holidays.
- To One Coming North – Claude McKay
‘Like me you’ll long for home, where birds’ glad song,
And the wind-worried void is chilly now’
I first encountered McKay on my undergraduate, he is a fine writer and was a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. This particular poem is a poem about the movement of people, and it addresses head on issues of race. However, such is the skill of the writer that he is able to comment upon the foibles of society in beautifully crafted verse. The rhyme scheme is regular and is perhaps more suited to a reader who finds blank verse too challenging.
- Birmingham Roller – Liz Berry
‘Bred to dazzling in backyards by men
whose onds grew soft as feathers’
Berry’s poem is less about travel, and more about a sense of place. For people living in the Black Country, an industrial part of the midlands in the UK, Berry’s words are sure to chime hard. At The Broken Spine we adore poetry that is able to evoke an almost tangible realness. In Birmingham Roller this is achieved primarily through the employment of dialect, but also by telling a story familiar to many, of ‘factory chimdeys’ and ‘terraces’.
- Vacation – Rita Dove
‘I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls’
In this poem, Rita Dove points her high-powered precision at what she sees around her, at the everyday, the minutiae of ‘ragtag nuclear families’. This is a poem for everybody, a scene that all aeroplane travellers will recognise. Dove has transformed people watching into an artform.