On Rhythm and Feeling

Joe Grant compares poetry and running.

By on June 13, 2019 | Comments

I recently read in The Paris Review an interview with Allen Ginsberg where he referred to poetry as being a rhythmic articulation of feeling. I jotted the sentence down in my notebook, with the word ‘poetry’ in a parenthesis, and wrote ‘running’ next to it. And so it read, “Running–a rhythmic articulation of feeling.”

Rarely do I stumble upon a phrase that so accurately and succinctly describes why I find running so compelling.

On the surface, running is a basic activity. Yet for me, it reveals the complexity of the human experience in a way I find continuously engaging. The context of a run can vary greatly, as can my state of mind going into it, but both play equal parts in their influence on an outing.

There are as many reasons to run as there are feelings expressed through the practice. I run for fun, to explore new places, relieve stress, challenge myself, think, and calm the mind. Most of the time I run alone but I also enjoy running with people for the companionship and camaraderie, to share in the experience, and to compete.

I run primarily on dirt, on and off the trails, up and down mountains, and occasionally on the beach, road, even on the track, and in the city. While my mood can converge or diverge with the place, each setting adds its own flavor to the run.

I can be running in the most pristine wilderness, yet still carry all of my thoughts with me. My mind is filled with mundane chatter and unimportant musings that distract me from my surroundings. On a run like that, the early rhythm is typically saccadic and it may take me hours to reach any kind of cathartic clarity. On the other hand, I could be running through the streets of a bustling city and be completely absorbed in my own world, indifferent to the cacophony of the urban sprawl. My rhythm then is fluid and effortless, the madness around me balanced by motion. This nonlinear interplay between state of mind and context is to me immensely captivating.

This spring, I traveled a lot for work. I had the opportunity to run in a wide variety of places in a condensed period of time, including Longs Peak in my backyard, the foothills of Santa Fe in New Mexico, the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, Arizona’s Grand Canyon, Utah’s Wasatch Range, the Utah desert, and finally Austria. Each of those places had such unique character which animated every one of my runs, invoking feelings of awe, excitement, and wonder. But with the accumulation of travel, the miles became weary and complacent, giving way to more muted appreciation.

I returned home from Europe craving rest, but my internal clock was still set to faraway across the Atlantic Ocean. For a week, I’d get to bed before 8 p.m. and wake at 4 a.m. I resisted getting up a first, tossing and turning while trying in vain to fall back asleep. When I finally stopped fighting it, I turned my offbeat sleep schedule into an opportunity. I’d somehow forgotten just how immensely pleasing it is to be out in the woods at that early hour with the whole world around me still and quiet.

And so, I slip out the door, merge onto the singletrack, and indulge in my preferred kind of experience when rhythm, feeling, and place harmonize.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you find that there are parallels between poetry and running?
  • How often do you find a harmony between your mind, your body’s feelings, and the environment through which you run?
  • And what about those times when your mind and surroundings aren’t in rhythm? Do you have an example of that?

All photos: Joe Grant

Joe Grant
Joe Grant frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.