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Poets of Mobility

The beckoning world, and closing ranks, of travel writers.

Jul 4, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 40 • By THOMAS SWICK
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Much of the problem for travel publications (even online ones) resides in the Internet. The diary-like nature of travel writing makes it ideally suited to blogs. You can almost picture Robert Byron posting installments of The Road to Oxiana on his website, while it’s much harder to imagine T. S. Eliot doing the same with The Waste Land. In an age of mass tourism and instant communication it’s no surprise that everyone is blathering about their trips. What’s astonishing is that anyone outside a small circle of family and friends cares to read the blather. The irony, and the agony, for travel writers is that, after a lifetime of being dismissed as amateurs (traveling far from home and writing what we don’t know), we are now being supplanted by the cult of amateurism.

So it’s no wonder that, like poets, we rally around each other. But we are not the only ones. In an increasingly fragmented world, ours is an increasingly common fate. At a book fair a few years ago Richard Rodriguez complained of getting only Hispanics at his reading, while women waited outside—he could see them through the occasionally opened door—for the lesbian author who was to go on next. “Why couldn’t I have,” Rodriguez asked reasonably, “some of the lesbians?” This is the cry of every writer today—though it seems a little out of place in travel, which by nature is wide-ranging, all-embracing, anti-hermetic, conversant with multitudes. 

If only we could get them as readers.

Thomas Swick is the author, most recently, of A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler.

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