I’m high, low, east, west/All over your map

My second writing class out here in the Bay Area was Kearny Street Workshop’s Putting the There in There: Writing about Place with Thy Tran. Thy pushed the writing group to locate our writing in a specific place and to map it out, not only in our verse but to lay out the terrain we were exploring in drawings like a real cartographer would. For me, this resulted in a basic stick figure map of my home in West Oakland. For my writing, I was able to conjure an “atlas of nationalism” (my flarf poem on cartography and how it reduces the immigration experience to a simple line) and “A Personal History and Reflection on Sixty Years in the City from the Reverend JT” (a transcription poem representing choices a father has to make raising his son in an urban environment). For the writing group, the result was a great anthology, Points Not Found: Writings on the Meaning of Place.

Since then, cartography remains a voice in the back of my head as I map out the various spaces in and around Anywhere Avenue. My last poem depicts the playground in every ‘hood. I just submitted a three page short story about a father/son working out how they’re going to escape the Bronx while overlooking an excavated street from the vantage point of the apartment fire escape. I’m also composing a three-minute play that goes down at the corner social club, another fixture in my memories of the 70s South Bronx. All this to bring Anywhere Avenue out of my imagination and into print.

A fine example of conflating the imaginary map with physical reality is over at SF Gate as highlights Ian Huebert’s mashup of literary quotes and the geography of San Francisco, an excerpt of Heubert’s map is above but click here to enjoy it in its full glory. (Props to AuthorScoop.com for pointing out this article.)

Literary map of San Francisco
John McMurtrie

A nub of 47 square miles, much of it punctuated by vertigo-inducing hills, most of it surrounded by ocean water – half of it the open, not-so-tranquil Pacific, the other half the calm, protected currents of a gray-blue bay.

Just as San Francisco has been shaped by its dramatic earthquake-scarred, coastal setting, the city, despite its relative youth, has also been defined by legions of writers whose words have brought it to life. Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Alice Adams, Amy Tan, Michelle Tea – they have all etched the landscape for us.

Rest of the article is at SFGate.com.

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  1. Hey, your post made me think of the book, MAPS OF THE IMAGINATION: THE WRITER AS CARTOGRAPHER by Peter Turchi. It addresses fiction writing in particular, but you should take a look (if you haven't already!). Money quote for me:

    "So the world of a story is a thing we create or summon into being, but which the reader participates in creating and understanding. A story or novel is a kind of map because, like a map, it is not a world, but it evokes one…."

  2. Thanks for the book rec, Ver. I've seen this book a bunch of times and keep meaning to pick it up but my "To Read" list is at some serious critical mass levels. I also recall just missing out on one of Turchi's local appearance, maybe at Moe's.

    Now the book I recommend was a text Thy used a lot in workshop: You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katharine Harmon. I don't have a money quote but Google Books has quite the preview of the text and a few maps. Enjoy!

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