Travel, like great writing, makes us look at the world through new eyes. This past summer I searched for stories over four continents, from Florence to Portland to Lima to Brisbane. And I was continually rewarded by narrative, in its many forms, from the 15th century paintings in Florence and Cuzco, to poems I heard read aloud in Portland and Brisbane. After a week deep in the Amazon, I was hardly a local but I became acclimated enough to see and appreciate everything I’d missed when I first arrived. It is the same with reading—we enter every new work of fiction or poetry as a stranger, an outsider, and if the author is a sure and able guide, as Steven Millhauser is in “Arcadia” or Paul Willems is in “Cathedral of Mist,” then his world becomes a place we experience on all levels. Such authenticity transcends borders, language, and time. In rare moments of transcendence my experience of a story or poem felt like a slap to the face. The alchemical mix of language and idea so jarred me that I was forced to reexamine my previous assumptions. One such instance was when Major Jackson read from his epic poem-in-progress, “OK Cupid,” at our Writer’s Workshop in Portland. There was a collective intake of breath when he launched and it seemed like no one exhaled until the last line. I hope it hits you as hard as it did us.
A note about the digital versions: If you read on a Kindle, use the Mobipocket edition; for all other e-readers, use the ePub edition.
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