On Walking On
Poetry | $16.95
paperback, 120 pages, 8 x 8 in
Publication Date: April
ISBN: 978-1-937658-66-3

On Walking On looks outward onto—or rather, walks through—the work of various writers for whom walking was or is an important element of daily life. The number of writers who were or are serious walkers is striking, and the connection goes back to antiquity, more recently including Woolf, Nerval, Sand, Debord, Sebald, and many others.


“Swensen’s exquisitely rendered images, unexpected syntax, and surprising line breaks give us the feeling of something ‘delicate falling to pieces,’ while at the same time, in its falling, ‘perfecting the scene.’”—Robert Fernandez


"American poet Cole Swensen’s latest is On Walking On (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2017), a book-length suite of poems engaged in the subject of walking, from her own notes on the subject to her responses to a lengthy list of other works by Geoffrey Chaucer, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dorothy Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, George Sand, Virginia Woolf, Thomas De Quincey, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Gérard de Nerval, Guillaime Apollinaire, John Muir, Robert Walser, W.G. Sebald, Werner Herzog, Harryette Mullen and Lisa Robertson. The back of the collection includes a healthy bibliography, which Swensen introduces by writing: “This series hopes to honor the millennia-old connection between walking and writing without trying to be in any way definitive. It started with an interest in texts written by a number of writers about walks that they had taken and then branched out in various idiosyncratic ways. Idiosyncrasy, in the long run, became the only principle of both selection and order.”—Rob Mclennan, Rob Mclennan's Blog

"The collection presents Swensen’s own “walk-about” poetic excursions alongside her sequential micro-essays on writers who also wrote about walking, forming an overlay of literary gems on this topic. Ending with a bibliography of allusions in the collection—essayists, novelists, philosophers, architects, and cultural critics who once published on the topics of psychogeography and wandering, whether urban or rural—the book’s overall effect is kaleidoscopic yet coherent in its lucid typologies of walking, indicative of a poet’s intuition for an eclecticism beyond the avenues of persuasion that a philosopher might pursue on a similar theme."—Karen An-hwei Lee, The Kenyon Review


"Imagine an anthology of the literature of walking, with examples ranging from the Middle Ages to the present. Further imagine that the selections have been provided with commentary, supplying biographical and historical context as well as some perceptive analysis. Now imagine that that these commentaries are poems, usually in long lines, lyrical and prismatic. Finally, imagine a book containing only the commentaries, without the accompaniment of the texts that inspired them, supplemented instead with the commentator’s prose poems on walks she herself had taken one summer. On Walking On is like that."—Paul Scott Stanfield, Ploughshares

"Known for incisive book-length explorations of single subjects—hands, in The Book of a Hundred Hands (2005); gardens, in Ours (2008); ghosts, in Gravesend (2012)—here, in her sixteenth collection, professor and translator Swensen probes the profound bond between writing and walking. Weaving works of influential authors, from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Lisa Robertson’s “Seven Walks,” into luminous meditations, Swensen follows Thoreau through a “cathedral of trees”; Sand through the “iridescent hum” of a French riverside; and Woolf through London, lamp-lit at dusk. But Swensen walks alone, too, and she intersperses these singular, paragraph-long musings throughout. Whether she’s contemplating cats and the creative process, language and landscapes, or centuries of fleeting yet extraordinary moments, Swensen remains an adept observer and a master of striking forms and line breaks. In “The Second Walk,” Swensen attests “the beautiful is also real, often / accidental, often in the middle of a phrase, a street, a day.” And though there’s nothing accidental about them, Swensen’s phrases, glowing with incandescent imagery and searching wit, are themselves vividly real things of beauty."—Briana Shemroske, Booklist

"Utilizing both research and praxis, Swensen (Landscapes from a Train) draws on the rich history of writing about walking in this sonorous and attentive collection. The writers Swensen references span from Chaucer through contemporary poet Lisa Robertson. As a result, the collection moves across wilderness and city streets, by the light of day and the dark of night, over continents and centuries. What walking means for each writer ranges as dramatically as their environments, and the differences therein raise fundamental questions about the dynamics between self, composition, and world. When Robert Walser walks, it is a way to still and arrange: “A walk brings things out, wraps them up// in glorious scents, holds them out at arm’s length and keeps them there, just out of reach, perfecting the scene.” In contrast, W.G. Sebald writes and walks, “inflaming the line—in the sense that a nerve, sufficiently riled, thwarts any conclusion,// and instead radiates outward in all directions.” Early on, Swensen observes that “there’s a visceral relationship between the pace at which you walk and that/ at which you write.” These poems get into the body, tuning the reader’s attention to Swensen’s long, steadily percussive lines. Cover to cover, Swensen offers readers a path through “a rhythmed reverie they could all walk into and farther into.”—Publishers Weekly