The Art and Practice of Flanerie

The Art and Practice of Flanerie

I am in the midst of preparing my course materials for a writing class I will teach in Scotland next summer through the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad (CCSA). The focus of the class will be the art and practice of flanerie.

I believe this is an ideal framework for a group of writers who will explore the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as the Scottish Highlands, because I know that a study abroad experience teaches as much (or more) about yourself as it does about the places you visit. I also want to design an experience where we study what happened in those places, who lived in those places, and what those places mean — and in the process we can better understand our own places, our own identities, and our own meanings. That is what flanerie means to me — the simple art of wondering and wandering and writing about both.

For me, this marriage of wandering, wondering, and writing, is a wonderful tool that should be applied not just to special occasions such as a class or writing retreat, but also to everyday life. As George Ritzer notes in the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology,” flanerie is “a way of seeing the world and being in the world.” Too often we do not spend enough time simply seeing and being and active engagement in flanerie is a way to do more of this. We all need more writing and reflecting about our world and our place in it.

Artistic reflection as well as the collection, and curation, of social artifacts is a central part of flanerie, as described by Aimee Boutin in Rethinking the Flâneur: Flânerie and the Senses. Flanerie is more than a simple travelogue or diary because the experience of the urban (or rural) landscape is unique to each flaneuse. In The Death of the Cyberflâneur Evgeny Morozov explains that the flaneur surveys “both his private self and the world at large.” In The Return of the Flâneur, Walter Benjamin says that through flanerie we combine both our own history and the history of the place we wander which leads to “the immense drama of flânerie.” I love this idea of unique and immense drama that flanerie makes possible. We all need more wondering in our lives.

It is also the very lack of specific direction and planning that appeals to me, because our world does its best to discourage such behavior. We must travel fast (by automation) and with a specific destination in mind, but flanerie is best done by foot with frequent stops and as Franz Hessel observes in Spazieren in Berlin, “In order to engage in flânerie, one must not have anything too definite in mind.” We all need more wandering, without purpose or plan, in our lives.

Read more about the art and practice of flanerie:

And related articles:

I fervently believe we all need more flanerie — wandering, wondering, and writing — to help us make sense of our world and our place within it. Do you agree? What are your thoughts about flanerie and when did you last engage in it?

Artwork is Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877, Gustave CaillebotteArt Institute of Chicago

Thinking About the Hinge

Thinking About the Hinge

This morning I read A Better Life by Randall Mann and I am still thinking about this poem. I have already written in my journal this morning and I expect I will return to this idea again which is why I wanted to share this poem as a writing prompt. Mann notes: “I wrote this poem on the cusp of my forty-fifth birthday; in what is likely the middle of my life” and, in fact, in the poem refers to this event as the “hinge” of his life. 

That one phrase made me think about the hinges of my life — the turning points — the times when our lives pivoted in some essential way. I love that idea of “hinges” because it can be a door or a gate opening or closing or swinging in the breeze. So my charge to you is to write about the hinges of your life — a time when it is useful to your growth to reflect on what came before and after that pivot point in your life. It does not need to be a poem although it might well turn into one.

And as always, share your reflections (or poetry!) using the #JustWrite hashtag.

Artwork by Marcu Ioachim

A Poem A Day

A Poem A Day

I’ve written before that signing up for the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day was one of the best things I could do for myself as someone still working their way to a place where she might be able to call herself a poet (still not there!). The poems themselves are such an eclectic selection of older works and newer poems that I am constantly exposed to new poetry and reminded of poetry that I once experienced but had slipped out of memory. Not only are these poems wonderful experiences by themselves they also inspire me to write poetry — they are often terrific writing prompts.

In fact, sometimes the poem is the inspiration, making me think about something from my life or think about something in a new way, but often I also find inspiration in the “About this poem” section in which the poet shares their inspiration and/or the story behind the work.

I recommend subscribing to the Poem-A-Day service even if you are not interested in poetry, because the poems and stories can inspire writers on many levels. If you are worried about email clutter (which I understand completely) then simply stop by and visit upon occasion when you are looking for inspiration. You will not be sorry.

Challenge Yourself

Challenge Yourself

One of the things I constantly stress with my students is to move outside their comfort zone. It is only outside our comfort zones that we learn and grow — evolve if you will. While this is important for students, it is equally important for the rest of us. When was the last time you challenged yourself? To learn something new, to attempt something new, to simply move away from the comfortable and familiar ruts we all create.

I haven’t always been good at this myself. The comfortable is so very comfortable after all. Plus, life is busy and it is hard enough to handle the things I need to do let alone make time for new things. But I do try, during the summer, when life is just slightly less busy and full (fractionally), to push myself, to challenge myself.

One of the challenges I have undertaken for the past two summers has been to write more poetry. Despite four post-secondary English degrees, my poetry education is lacking and I still find writing poetry to be a very challenging, sometimes frightening, experience, but the more I read poetry, write poetry, and talk with other poets (I cringe to even call myself a poet) the more I come to appreciate that we all need more poetry in our lives. Poetry helps us think about ideas, both big and small, and explore those ideas in more manageable chunks than different text forms. I recently started subscribing to the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day and I have found so many ideas to think about and write about. One of the ways that I challenged myself to write more poetry was to participate in LexPoMo – a month-long poetry writing challenge for Lexington, Kentucky, and the surrounding region (seems like all of Kentucky!). Last year I wrote a dozen poems and this year I wrote 16 poems. June is a super busy month for me (even though I’m officially not working!) because the Morehead Writing Project has a lot going on, so I am proud to reach both numbers and I think this year’s poems were better than last year’s so that is also a point of pride. Part of this challenge for me was reading The Poet’s Companion and working my way through a number of exercises in the book. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in writing poetry, but continue to struggle (like me).

Another way I like to push myself each summer is to participate in CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration). This community spans the globe and involves a lot of educators but others who simply want to have fun and learn together. There is a lot of playful innovation and experimentation as we contemplate some serious questions about learning and human growth. Every summer I learn something new and am pushed outside my comfort zone.

What will you do to challenge yourself? When was the last time you challenged yourself? Do you think there are benefits to challenging yourself on a regular basis?

Capture A Moment

I wrote a poem this morning that made me cry (see Saucijsjes) because it reminded me so sharply of my grandmother. I love her dearly and miss her terribly, but she is hardly the sort of person people write poetry about. She was just a home cooking, gardening, canning, church going sort of grandmother who loved her family and her friends. But two prompts from The Poet’s Companion led me to my poem.

The first prompt was a simple one. Write a poem instructing someone how to do something. The second was more complex and challenging until I linked it up with the first. Capture an essential image or story that represents the essential spirit or character of a member of your family. So many of my memories of my grandmother are tied up in the kitchen and food that it seemed natural to write about making a meal that is quintessential to my family.



The thing to remember about cooking with grandma is that
Nothing is exact
No measuring cups or spoons
Just dollops, scoops, and pinches
Everything is by touch and taste
Until it is right  

First divide the sausage
Six to a pound if you are feeding the family
Twelve for a party
Already I’m cheating because I use premixed sausage from the store
Roll each portion into an oblong
Ignore the fat coating your skin seeping into your pores
As sage tickles your nose
The microwave a betrayal
Of grandma frying on the stovetop
Turning rows of sausages quickly with a wooden spoon
Serving as punctuation to her story
Or meting out punishment
Pat the sausages dry
Then wrap into tidy dough packages
At least my dough is made from scratch
And tuck into a greased pan
Leaving room to expand
Baking leaves just time for a cup at the kitchen table
And a story about grandpa
Polish each brown-tinted package with butter
Serve with applesauce on the side
Watch that first bite
Or you will burn your mouth
Biting into memory  

The thing to remember about cooking with grandma is that
Nothing is exact
No measuring cups or spoons
Just dollops, scoops, and pinches
Everything is by touch and taste
Until it is right  

To Camp

To Camp

Soul sick and weary

The road to Yosemite

Promises cleansing

Never the same journey twice

Bonds renewed, joy recovered


This Tanka poem was inspired by our yearly (sometimes twice yearly) trek to deliver our son to church camp in Yosemite, Kentucky. He has fun with new and old friends, but it is also a very spiritual experience for him. It has been a wonder to watch him grow as a result of this experience. And both literally and figuratively, the journey to Yosemite has never been the same for us no matter how many times we travel to Camp Wa’kon-DaHo.

Make A List

It is true. Your grocery list can be a poem. Anything you write can be a poem.

List poems are both the simplest poetry form and the most challenging because writing lists asks the question when does an assembly of words become a poem. I don’t honestly know the answer to that question, but I have never felt that my grocery lists were poetry. And if my to-do lists were a genre it is more likely to be horror. However, today I sat down to write a poem (because LexPoMo) and I ended up writing a list poem (see For Camp). Sometimes this type of poems are called inventory poems.

Some lists are very simple lists (as mine is) but sometimes they offer a bit more. See Shel Silverstein’s Sick for example. I love this idea because it offers so many types of list poems that you could write (just think of all the excuses you dream up to escape loathesome situations). Dorothy Parker also wrote a wonderful Inventory poem which could be adapted to suit your current situation.

This form can also be adapted to study processes or make simple observations such as Christopher Smart’s For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry. Surely this is a form we could all attempt!

A list poem organizes an inventory of people, places, things, or ideas in a particular way for a specific effect. It does not need to include rhythm or rhyme, but as you play with your words and ideas either may emerge. I will leave you with one final inspiration about a list poem from Anne Waldman, Things That Go Away & Come Back Again.

Give your own list or inventory poem a try and remember to share it using the #JustWrite hashtag.