As poet-in-residence for the New England Trail I will use poetry to amplify awareness and expand general understanding of this 215 mile footpath while enriching the experiences of hikers. I seek to use the written and spoken word to assist all who encounter the trail to get the most out of every moment whether they are through travelers, on a short jaunt for a view or exercise, or enjoy just reading about this unique pathway that travels on ridges and mountain peaks, through valleys and villages, along wetlands and across streams, past agricultural lands and into large forests.
Poetry can enhance appreciation of the trail by capturing the landscape and experience of hiking in words that memorably resonate with people. This includes not only seeing common sights in new ways, but expressing the full range of senses from the smell of a fern glade to the feel of traprock to the taste of a sassafras leaf. Poetry can take what is invisible and render it visible in the mind’s eye by bringing to the fore legends, cultural history, natural processes, and a sense of change and continuity over time. Through poetry, the trail community will learn to see in four dimensions—in time as well as space. Poetry can also evoke the feeling of being on the trail— sweat, wind, cold, heat, muscle aches, unexpected joy.
As poet-in-residence I will probe the very idea of “trailness,” that notion of connectivity so important in human affairs and of which a continuous footpath is the physical embodiment. I intend to highlight the many confluences of nature and culture along the way from places painted by great artists to old cellar holes to plane crash sites and colonial roads once traveled by George Washington and Revolutionary War soldiers. I want to emphasize that the trail is a cultural artifact laid over natural phenomena. Poetry will not only enable trail users to see anew, or with greater mindfulness, it will promote transfigured vision by injecting awe and wonder into ordinary experience.
Great philosophers and poets from Aristotle to Wordsworth to Thoreau and beyond were peripatetic thinkers, people whose bodies and brains were in conversation. Hiking may be a kind of poetry in motion. We can connect the legs to the heart and mind with poetry.
David K. Leff, October 31, 2016
About the New England Trail
The New England National Scenic Trail is one of eleven national scenic hiking trails, of which the Appalachian Trail was first. It was established by an act of Congress and came into being in 2009, and is largely composed of the historic Mattabesett, and Metacomet, and Monadnock trail systems. It runs through 41 towns from Long Island Sound at Guilford, Connecticut to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. The trail is a unit of the National Park Service and maintained by the volunteers of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and Appalachian Mountain Club. For more go to https://newenglandtrail.org/about-trail