Elizabeth Bishop famously asks, “Is it
lack of imagination that makes us come / to imagined places, not just
stay at home?” Is your “Dime-store Travelogue” conceding the point, and
embracing the imagination as the preferred means of transit?
As someone who lived abroad for five
years before (just now) returning to the US, I think part of my impetus
for leaving in the first place was as Bishop suspects not so much a
pure lack of imagination, but an indulgence of its biases. That is, I
have chronically imagined that what is elsewhere is categorically
different than what is nearby; the imaginary differential between here
and there (or these and those people) becomes magnetized in favor of
the latter, and off I go. In the long term, though, as I think Bishop
also experienced, travel became a backdoor to the source of my own
projections, but from a slightly different angle. So, this poem is set
at that point of the devaluation of the travelogue as a form of
discovery, because what the traveler has discovered is that for her it
actually serves as a Romantic and somewhat imitative facade allowing
her to hide/dodge her own inner uncertainties. Which is to say: for me
at least “the imagination” needed some outside schooling in order to
become a decent transit system.
What is “the stronger thing,” and what is the danger of imagining it?
The stronger thing is the fact of
being alive—as caught against the “naught,” non-existence, terminal
mortality, that life’s the flip side of. Against all temporizing
hypotheticals spun by “if,” this non-negotiable zero is normally
ignorable; but past a certain proximity to death—yours or
another’s—your imagination can’t help but bend to meet this bifurcated
fact: non-/existence. It’s not dangerous, just usually (unless you have
a strong Memento Mori practice, or are Marina Abramovic) unwelcome.