I was thrilled to talk to Paris-based writer Janet Skeslien Charles about my upcoming poetry collection Wayword, the Camino, the importance of idleness, the weight of band-aids and tampons and much more…
When you set off on [the Camino] did you know you would write about it?
Before I set off, I made a grand list of things I wanted to think about while walking: my goals in life, my fears, that kind of thing. All of that fell away on the road. What emerged was this very quiet, very clear voice that has always been there, but muffled by the noise of my everyday life in Paris. I started writing down what the voice was saying, and stopped worrying about answering high-level questions about where I was going with my life.
More about Janet: Originally from Montana, Janet has been living in Paris since 1999. Her first book, Moonlight in Odessa, was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of their top ten debut novels for Fall 2009 and translated into a dozen languages. Janet is currently working on her next novel.
Waywordis an exploration of distance and solitude, written on the ancient pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago.
The poems came out of a long walk I took along the Camino to Santiago, in Spain. I had been working as a news journalist in Paris for some time, and decided to walk alone for a month to experience what distance and solitude feels like outside of the hyper-connected, urban, 24-hour newscycle. The only company I had was a 22-pound (10 kg) backpack and an old copy of Poetry magazine.
As Gustav Mahler allegedly said, “if you think you are boring your audience, slow down.”
I hope I’ve slowed down just enough.
And now the chapbook is ready to pre-order from Finishing Line Press!
You can find a sneak peak here. If you like it, order the book from Finishing Line Press here. All pre-orders help immensely to increase the final print run, so thank you!
If you’re really curious, you can even listen to me reporting from the Camino for Radio France Internationale:
Praise for Wayword:
“Wayword” traces a path along the northern edge of Spain to the pilgrim’s goal of Santiago de Compostela. These lucidly observed, structurally diverse poems are tinged with quiet sexuality as well as an openness of spirit ready to lend itself to the happenstance of the road. Together they constitute a journey of awareness: of the world, of humanity, of the constancy of the body through space and time.
I stop listening to my music and start listening to her when she says: I can’t begin to tell you how much I want this year to end.
Math is done, the girl sitting behind me on the bus says into her phone. Math is done. Math is done. I wonder about the use of repetition in dialogue. She doesn’t mean the year 2016 I gather, she means her school year. She has plans to move in with her friends, but she doesn’t call them her friends, she calls them something else. All that’s left for me to do is make sure they have some regular jobs, she says. A police raid is the last thing I need.
10 years. That’s 10 years. 10 years, she says, of her cousin who is in federal jail up in Rhode Island. In 10 years, I will be 30. That’s crazy, she says, twice, and it reminds me of how I used to feel when I thought of myself turning 30: a distant, thrilling time when wisdom would come naturally and experience was something that had already happened to me, not something I was running after.
We don’t talk about the kids, she says. We don’t talk about the kids, meaning her cousin’s kids, who will grow up with their father in jail. Hell, you talk to him. You talk to him, she says.
There’s a man on my block who feeds the pigeons. I’m sure I’ve seen him do this before, but today is the first time that I really watched him. He was on the little square in front of our place, the one that connects five shortish cobble-stoned one-way streets. He was picking up triangular pieces of bread (not the French kind, but the Middle Eastern flat kind, that is easier to get in our neighborhood than baguette), inspecting them briefly and tossing them onto a flattened cardboard box. Then he picked up a sandwich, one of those triangular kinds, in a plastic container the same shape as the sandwich. He had trouble opening it, and so he rummaged around his pockets until he found his set of keys, and sheared open the plastic film at the top. He separated the layers of sandwich and tossed them all onto the cardboard too. He then picked up a stick lying around, or maybe it was a gnawed-down corn cob, the kind street-vendors sell from makeshift grills made out of shopping carts along the boulevard. Whatever it was, he used it to break the pieces of bread into smaller bits.
That’s how I knew he had no intention of eating any of this – until then, I wouldn’t have put it past him.
He went to rinse his hands at the fountain (the old, green kind, financed by a British philanthropist in the late nineteenth century) and put the plastic into the garbage can on the corner of the square.A few pigeons, loitering around, ventured onto the cardboard box. The man joined his friends sitting with their walking sticks resting between their knees on the little brick wall by the side. One of them picked up a leftover sandwich, still in its container, and examined the label, wondering perhaps, whether to eat it or not.
Soon enough, birds were swooping in from all directions. It was as though they had been watching him all along, and now, two, three at a time, at least a dozen every second, were coming to claim what was there. The pecking intensified as the group grew. They had trouble with the salami from the sandwiches, fleshy pink triangles, that they pecked but were unable to tear a piece off of. It looked like they were playing ball, with these pink things flapping up in one pigeon’s beak, twirling in the air, and then landing a little way’s off, then being picked up again by another pigeon. At one point, a salami landed on a pigeon’s back, but the pigeon didn’t seem to notice until, quite a bit later, it slid back down.
A media project piloted out of the Innovation and Development Lab of the International New York Times in Paris. The platform sought to experiment with curation and audience engagement around subjects of international scope.
Launched in August 2015, the experiment underwent multiple iterations before moving permanently off the net in April 2016. My duties as editor within the Lab included long-term project management, short-term goal-setting, designing, commissioning and editing theme-based collections of articles.
That’s the motto of the founders of the Incredible Edible movement.
Take the local train north of Manchester and you will spot a Hollywood- style sign on a hill that says “Kindness” in large white letters. It overlooks Todmorden, an old cotton-mill town and the birthplace of an urban-gardening revolution.
“I still get a thrill when I pick an artichoke here,” says Estelle Brown in front of the local police station. Brown is one of about 30 volunteers who make upIncredible Edible Todmorden, the gardening group that has made their west Yorkshire town famous by claiming public land and growing food for everybody.
Read full story here. Or want to watch a video instead? Check out my short report.