TCS: Something Forgotten – Cartography for Beginners

. . Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.


A poem becomes a map when it crosses boundaries
of identity and experience, when it shows us how to
move through and beyond the spaces that keep us
from one another, and keep us from our own humanity.
The poem as map situates readers within larger contexts:
cultural, historical, social, and spatial. It layers personal
and universal experiences, interior and exterior perspectives,
and then it invites us to transgress them.

– Taiyon J. Coleman


April 5th is Read A Road Map Day. It is also National Maritime Day in India.

The ability to read maps is becoming an endangered skill. Too many people now rely solely on GPS to get them where they are going and back again. I think there may be a correlation between our declining map-reading skills, and the alarming increase in the number of people who’ve become totally lost in the deep murk of conspiracy theories.  

Since poetry has been called a “dying art” for well over 100 years now, map-reading and poetry have more in common than most people probably think.

Putting maps into poems has occurred to a surprising number of poets. Here is just a small sampling. 


Give Me Maps

by Diane Lee Mommey

I’ll search for you, MapQuest or Yahoo;
print out the words to send me
spiraling to your front door. Eventually.

Or I’ll Google, click “satellite”, note
the color of your mailbox; your boat,
how many dandelions in the yard.

Instruct my ‘droid
to call out in loud voice,
(male or female, my choice), to
“turn left at next intersection,
turn left at next intersection,
turn left at next intersection.” 
I’ll do these things with grace, for you,
but oh for pure adventure, do
give me maps, give me paper, give me maps!

Give me ink: new, or with piney residue
of picnic tables past. I’ll unfold
their vast beauty, fill the dashboard,
fold, refold, behold the North
and South of them, the scale of miles;
drop mustard onto Wichita,
count inches to Vancouver,
Cheboygan, Dubuque.

Give me maps!

Maps, and children who’ll demand
while dripping jam on Alabama, who’ll demand—
of course they will demand—to know
if we are There yet.

“Give Me Maps” from Figure in a Landscape, © 2015 by Diane Lee Moomey – Day’s Eye Press

Diane Lee Moomey, American poet, writer, visual artist, and gardener, was born in New York State, grew up in the Great Lakes area, but now lives in Northern California. She won the First Prize in Creative Non-Fiction of the Soul Making Keats Literary Contest. Her poetry collections include While on the Way Home, Nothing But Itself, and Figure in a Landscape.  


A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England

by Denise Levertov

Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers
and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,
and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a
stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,
I am Essex-born:
Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,
the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,
Roding held my head above water when I thought it was
drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees
stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,
the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.
Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,
Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,
Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,
in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,
through its trees the ghost of a great house. In
Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the
light of flaring sundown, seven kings
in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings
the place of law
where my birth and marriage are recorded
and the death of my father. Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).
All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world’s great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

“A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England” from Poems 1960-1967, © 1960 by Denise Levertov – New Directions Publishing

Denise Levertov (1923-1997) British-born American poet, known for her anti-Vietnam war poems in the 1960s and 1970s, which also included themes of destruction by greed, racism, and sexism. Her later poetry reflects her conversion to Catholicism. No matter the subject, she was always an acute observer, and wrote with a rare combination of economy and grace. Levertov was the author of 24 books of poetry, as well as non-fiction, and she served as poetry editor of The Nation and Mother Jones. She was honored with the Robert Frost Medal in 1990, and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1993. In 1997, Levertov died from complications of lymphoma at age 74.


Your Body Is My Map

by Nizār Qabbānī  

Raise me more love… raise me
my prettiest fits of madness
O’ dagger’s journey… in my flesh
and knife’s plunge…

sink me further my lady…
the sea calls me
add to me more death …
perhaps as death slays me I’m revived

your body is my map…
the world’s map no longer concerns me…
I am the oldest capital of sadness…
and my wound a Pharaonic engraving

my pain…. extends like an oil patch
from Beirut… to China…
my pain… a caravan…dispatched
by the Caliphs of “A’Chaam”… to China…

in the seventh century of the “Birth”…
and lost in a dragon’s mouth…
bird of my heart, my march… “naysani”
O’ sand of the sea, and forests of olives

O’ taste of snow, and taste of fire…
my heathen flavor, and insight
I feel scared of the unknown… shelter me
I feel scared of the darkness… embrace me

I feel cold… cover me up
tell me children stories…
rest beside me…
chant to me…

since from the start of creation
I’ve been searching for a homeland to my forehead…
for a woman’s hair…
that writes me on the walls… then erases me…

for a woman’s love… to take me
to the borders of the sun… and throws me…
from a woman’s lip… as she makes me
like dust of powdered gold…

shine of my life, my fan, my lantern, declaration of my orchards
stretch me a bridge with the scent of oranges…
and place me like an ivory comb…
in the darkness of your hair… then forget me

I am a drop of water… ambivalent remaining
in the notebook of October, your love crushes me…
like a mad horse from the Caucasus throwing me under its hoofs…
and gargles with the water of my eyes…

add to me more fury… add to me
O’ prettiest fits of my madness
for your sake I set free my women,
I left my history behind me, and cut all my arteries…

“Your Body Is My Map” from On Entering the Sea, © 1980 by Nizār Qabbānī, English translation © 1996 by Salma Khadra Jayyusi – Interlink Publishing Books

Nizār Qabbānī  (1923-1998) Syrian writer, poet, diplomat, lawyer, and publisher. His erotic romantic verse, and biting political poems are both revered and reviled in the Middle East. The suicide of his sister, who was unwilling to marry a man she did not love, had a profound effect on Qabbānī, who was 15 at the time, and much of his poetry concerns the experiences of women in traditional Muslim society. His work was often banned by authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries, but gained some popularity in Israel, in spite of his anti-Israeli stance, because he also criticized Arab policies and military failures. Lovers the world over have found his romantic poetry inspirational. Qabbani served in Syrian embassies in Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Britain, China, and Spain before retiring to live in Beirut, Lebanon, where he founded the publishing company Manshurāt Nizār Qabbānī.  His second wife, Balqis al-Rawi, an Iraqi teacher he met at a poetry recital in Baghdad, was killed in a bomb attack by pro-Iranian guerrillas, while at work in the cultural section of the Iraqi Ministry in Beirut. Nizār Qabbānī died in London of a heart attack at age 75.


Cartography for Beginners

by Emily Hasler       

for CL

First of all, you will need to choose the correct blue
to indicate water. This should not be too watery.
You must remember: people do not like wet feet.
If there is no water to indicate, no matter,
you must still elect a blue. Let me recommend
eggshell, at a push, azure. Choose a symbol
for church/temple/mosque/synagogue. Choose
a symbol for pub. Dedicate your life
to the twin and warring gods of Precision
and Wild Abandon. People do not like
to be lost. Buy Mandelbrot’s 1967 paper
on the coastline paradox, put it on the highest shelf –
but get a stepladder. Take a little licence with rivers,
especially their curves and estuaries. Add
an oxbow lake if at all possible. If the area you
are mapping has no seas/lakes/rivers/streams,
I have to question why you are bothering. You
won’t get to use that lovely blue you spent so long
deciding upon. Do the Norfolk fens instead. Better
yet, East Anglia in its future state, quite utterly
submerged like a sodden Constable. Come on,
get your coat, I’ll show you. You won’t need your shoes.

“Cartography for Beginners” from The Built Environment, © 2018 by Emily Hasler – Liverpool University Press

Emily Hasler, British poet and poetry reviewer born in Suffolk; in 2009, she won second prize in the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition, and has poems in The Salt Book of Younger Poets, and The Best British Poetry – 2011. Her first pamphlet, natural histories, was published in 2011 by Salt Publishing, and her first poetry collection, The Built Environment, appeared in 2018. 


A Map of the City

by Thom Gunn

I stand upon a hill and see
A luminous country under me,
Through which at two the drunk sailor must weave;
The transient’s pause, the sailor’s leave.

I notice, looking down the hill,
Arms braced upon a window sill;
And on the web of fire escapes
Move the potential, the grey shapes.

I hold the city here, complete;
And every shape defined by light
Is mine, or corresponds to mine,
Some flickering or some steady shine.

This map is ground of my delight.
Between the limits, night by night,
I watch a malady’s advance,
I recognize my love of chance.

By the recurrent lights I see
Endless potentiality,
The crowded, broken, and unfinished!
I would not have the risk diminished.

“A Map of the City” from Collected Poems, © 1994 by Thom Gunn – Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) English poet who lived most of his adult life in San Francisco; where he moved in the 1950s to live with his partner Mike Kitay. They had met at Cambridge. Gunn’s poems are often explorations of drug ecstasy, homosexuality, and life the ‘60s and ‘70s in San Francisco. Later he wrote wrenching poems about the AIDS crisis. His many poetry collections include: Fighting Terms; Touch; Moly; The Man With Night Sweats; and Old Stories.


The Map of the World

by Anna Couani

The map of the world is felt from the inside. Rough around
the coastlines and smooth over the hills and sand dunes.
Warm and moist through the rivers which lead outside
to the forests like long hair then sparser like shorter more
bristly hair to the touch. Reading a glove of the world its
topography in relief. Reading with the fingers as though blind.
Feeling it with the back, down the spine. Making contact with
the nipples and the nose only. Moving at a fast rate underwater
trough the oceans and large lakes. Most of the oceans connect up
with each other. Moving so fast you become aware of the earth’s
surface being curved. Flying low but fast across the land masses.
Make yourself feel like the world. As old but not as troubled.

“The Map of the World” from Small Wonders, © 2011 by Anna Couani, and Debby Sou Vai Keng (for Chinese translations) – ASM & Cerberus

Anna Couani (1948 – ) Australian poet, writer, visual artist, and teacher. She isof Greek and Polish heritage, a feminist activist, and a founding member of the Sydney Women Writers Workshop, aka the No Regrets Group. She is a former president of the Sydney branch of the Poets Union. She has been a co-editor on several Australian poetry anthologies, and published two poetry collections of her own, Small Wonders, and thinking process. Small Wonders was published in English with side-by-side Chinese translations and illustrations. Her prose works include Were all Women Sex-mad? & Other Stories, and The Harbour Breathes.


The map room

by Joshua Clover

We moved into a house with 6 rooms: the Bedroom,
the Map Room, the Vegas Room, Cities in the Flood Plains,
the West, & the Room Which Contains All of Mexico.
We honeymooned in the Vegas Room where lounge acts
wasted our precious time.Then there was the junta’s
high command, sick dogs of the Map Room, heel-prints
everywhere, pushing model armies into the unfurnished
West. At night: stories of their abandoned homes in the Cities
in the Flood Plains, how they had loved each other
mercilessly, in rusting cars, until the drive-in went under.
From the Bedroom we called the decorator & demanded
a figurehead… the one true diva to be had
in All of Mexico: Maria Felix [star of The Devourer, star
of The Lady General].Nightly in Vegas, “It’s Not Unusual”
or the Sex Pistols medley.Nothing ever comes back
from the West, it’s a one-way door, a one-shot deal,–
the one room we never slept in together.My wife
wants to rename it The Ugly Truth.I love my wife for her
wonderful, light, creamy, highly reflective skin;
if there’s an illumination from the submerged Cities,
that’s her.She suspects me of certain acts involving Maria Felix,
the gambling debts mount…but when she sends the junta off to Bed
we rendezvous in the Map Room & sprawl across the New World
with our heads to the West. I sing her romantic melodies from the Room
Which Contains All of Mexico, tunes which keep arriving
like heaven, in waves of raw data, & though I wrote none of the songs
myself & can’t pronounce them, these are my greatest hits

“The map room” from Madonna anno domini  © 1997 by Joshua Clover – Louisiana State University Press

Joshua Clover (1962 – ) California-born American poet, critic, and journalist; winner of two Pushcart Prizes. He is a professor of English literature and critical theory at the University of California, Davis. Clover’s two other poetry collections are The Totality for Kids, and Red Epic.


This isn’t a poem about maps, but it is about getting where you need to go. After finding Taiyon Coleman’s quote about poems becoming maps, I think this poem illustrates what she is talking about. April is Black Women’s History Month, so “It’s Bigger Than This” honors that too.

It’s Bigger Than This

by Taiyon J. Coleman

The last token to catch
the only bus that will
get you there on time
for your paycheck to see
you through two more weeks
amassing tokens just for change.

“It’s bigger than this. I spoke too soon.”

Coretta says to Martin, “Get up!
Rosa’s left a seat right next to her,” and
Demurely she’s waiting rubbing red dust
from reading glasses while the Southern bus
driver spits shears through the rear view
imagining bleeding brown moles on her face.

“It’s bigger than this. I spoke too soon.”

Garvey tells Harriet to tell Sojourner
that she’s a woman too cause
he was marveling at how easy
it is to cross moving waters not knowing
how deep but trusting that if you rejoin
your pupils to the northern stars callused
souls over cracked feet find substance underneath.

“It’s bigger than this. I spoke too soon.”

Crispus Attucks in James’ town, twenty
Africans as Dutch as a slave’s a ship,
Nat Turner burns fire in a Virginia cave,
Harriet’s narcoleptic vision makes water moccasins
meek, Sally sails a master’s mission to Paris,
and Chapman-Catt tells Frederick Douglass
“only for those who qualify.”

“It’s bigger than this. I spoke too soon.”

Lincoln’s thinking drinking while wanting Confederate cash,
Emmett Till’s swinging to Count Basie in a Holiday hash,
Fannie Lou Hamer has lost her eye holding it in the right
hand, Carver eats in the bachelor’s basement, dorms in a closet,
takes notes outside through a slightly opened pained
stained class glass window, and Booker T. will have
him crossing corn for the Christ in us all.

“It’s bigger than this. I spoke too soon.”

Monday morning finds you trying your tokens for
change, James Meredith saves you a seat and a crazy
man’s up front telling driver Barnett that he wants
off at the next stop, and you show your tokens for
change, various diplomas in tow, and the driver takes
your tokens but offers no change, and the crazy man
pulls out his, asks for Alex Haley and hurriedly
says as he strides off the bus toward the Audubon Ballroom,

“It’s bigger than this. I’ve spoken too soon.

I’ve been with you. I’ve trained you,
and I know what you can do.”

“It’s Bigger Than This” appeared in Minding Nature, Spring 2020 issue, © 2020 by Taiyon J. Coleman

Taiyon J. Coleman is a poet, essayist, and educator. She is a Cave Canem fellow, and Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her poetry and essays have appeared in numerous anthologies, collections, and magazines.



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Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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