Sunday, February 5, 2012

Poetry from Motion

I'm not sure why, but I've been thinking a lot about this article I wrote a couple years ago for ultraRUNNING on the connection between poetry and ultra.  It being the winter slow season, I thought I'd dust it off and reprint it here.   

It'd finally taken complete hold of me, and I had to surrender. My slow-man shuffle pattered on a few more strides, fell to an amble, then reluctantly to a complete stop. The new quiet - no more wind, no more tchonk tchonk of shoes upon gravel - brought into deep relief just how hard I'd been breathing to hold a snail's pace.  I stood there looking over the rolling hills and jagged peaks, feeling the still, warm air envelope my skin, and knowing all too well the time had come.  Running on fumes for miles, my stomach had finally had it.  I looked up and down the path to see if anyone was coming, bent over and with hands on knees, and threw up a few times; then, like legions of ultrarunners before me, sipped a little water, smiled at the scene, and started the halting shuffle to the next aid station.  My final thought:  I need to write a poem about this.  

I've yet to write that poem, but it's certainly not because it's an unworthy image.  While bonked and barfing isn't a state most folks would call poetic, in many ways it's the poetic moment:  being stripped to the core, resisting what it is we need most (calories and fluids) and with miles to go before we rest.  It's the human condition laid bare.

And this is one of the things I love most about the long life in the backcountry. It is rich with such moments:  some are beautiful, some are ugly, some are just plain base.  But what unifies them all for me is their offering the opportunity to better see the universe and our place in it if we just take the time to reflect a bit.  If poetry is experience distilled to a point of transcendence, then ultrarunning is surely poetry personified. 

I've written countless poems on my long backcountry runs - first lines anyway - most of which, without pen or paper or digital recorder, are siphoned from my mind and lost back to the ethers, ready to be captured and formed by the runners that come after me.

Still, I've managed to secure a few moments in words - the melancholy I feel running by abandoned mining sites; being surrounded by yellow butterflies as I traverse a ridge; crossing the stark shadow line as the trail snakes up a steep valley in the early morning.

It's always hard to do justice to the experience on the trail -- to perfectly convey that feeling, that thought, that vision you had barreling down that 3,000 foot descent at mile 83.  It never really comes out exactly how you'd hoped.  But perfection really isn't the goal.  It's understanding.  The same reason we all run ultras:  To connect to ourselves to nature and to others; to have transcendent experiences.  Poetry captures that and can actually do it one better, by sharing it with the world.  


Gretchen said...

Awesome, awesome post, Hank. Every single word.

Hank Dart said...

Thanks a lot, Gretchen. It's a subject close to my heart.