by Scott Russell Morris
Craig Dworkin’s forward to Andy Fitch’s Sixty Morning Walks places the book of prose poems—lyric essays? the boundary, always murky, is especially so here—in the tradition of the literary walker, the flâneur who observes and records. This is a fair placement, as all sixty of the sixty-sentenced entries recount details from a walk, and it is clear that the author of these pieces intends the walk to be more than just a walk, also a literary exercise. But the difference between Fitch’s walks and those of other literary ramblers like Thoreau or Woolf is that Fitch remains much closer to the source material. He rarely extends his thoughts on the page from the walk itself, and even when he does let us know that something he saw reminded him of something else, that fact is all we get. No explanation, no musing, just a continuation of the walk. More details, collaged together.
In this way, each piece—and the collection as a whole—reads like a collection of moments, a grouping of loiterers and business men and police officers and dogs and parks and stray grains of rice all together. Perhaps it is just the settings of New York City and the idea of recounting the everyday people there, but in lots of ways Sixty Morning Walks feels closer to Brandon Stanton’s photography project Humans of New York, in that it collects snapshots of—and creates wonder towards—the mundane people and scenes on the streets of New York. By observing people—the doorman at Fitch’s girlfriend’s apartment, the teachers leading field trips, the panhandling potheads, the men in stylish pants—he makes the boring exciting, the familiar both strange and sexy.
As you could imagine, then, Sixty Morning Walks, starts as a slow read, taking its sentence structures and its dedication to cadence and sound from poetry. If you do the pieces justice, it can take you an hour to read just one walk, though it is only a two-page piece. But there are really too many walks for that to be a sustainable way to read the book as a book, which makes for an interesting reading experience because each individual piece is not very exciting as a poem: the details are all there is, the language skillfully pared down, but not much happens narratively or emotionally in any one piece. Reading just one day’s walk would be completely unfulfilling. Yet, as a series of walks, all read together, the book becomes incredibly engrossing, the details more and more interesting even as they stay just as mundane at the first, so that by the end, though the narrative has remained steady and the emotions never risen or fallen, the sixty walks together seem to be some great feat, a slowness to the mood and a quickness to the pace that makes you want to really savor every small, boring detail and examine them closer.
While the pieces’ quick pace and seemingly random assortment of details appear to resist theme or deeper meaning, there are a few motifs that stick out, that make for a particularly interesting mix when paired with the menagerie presented. The first motif that struck me was the continued presence of the police and guards. It seemed that the narrator was constantly being told where he could and could not go or where he did not belong. Only once in the whole book did a police officer smile, though Fitch recounts countless other smiles throughout. In a book about walking, this continual butting up against barriers makes for an uneasiness that is just below the surface, easy to miss. And it is also part of the genius of the piece. It is impossible to know if that continued noticing was intentional, or just the law of large numbers creating an ominous undertone to an otherwise lightly themed book.
The second, and perhaps the obvious theme from a work of this sort, is the act of looking at other people. But Fitch tells us over and over that he is not just looking at other people, he is staring at them, making eye contact. He assumes people think of him as a creep several times, but several times the eye contact leads to a shared smile. Several times he openly tells us that the people he stares at he finds sexy. And even those who don’t seem sexy still get the voyeuristic gaze; so really, everyone seems sexy, which is another relationship I see with the Humans of New York project. Alexander Smith, in his essay “On the Writing of Essays” says that “If a man is worth knowing at all, he is worth knowing well.” A project like this one, that sort that collects people, proves that you don’t even need to know a man, woman, child, or dog well:, sometimes it is enough just to notice them.
Sixty Morning Walks is available from Ugly Duckling Presse.
Scott Russell Morris lives in Lubbock, TX, where he is an English PhD student at Texas Tech University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University. His essays have appeared in Brevity, Proximity, Blue Lyra Review, and Stone Voices.