On Rhythm and Feeling

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

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.

There are 5 comments

  1. Geordie

    Wonderful phrase! To get the “articulation” part to apply to running, as it does to poetry, in light of the analogy with music, seems tricky. I thought of the clip of Kilian Jornet’s playful jump running Western in that famous film, as if it were a caesura or a line break between verses. Perhaps the phrase applies nearly literally to that clip, representation?

  2. Rennur

    Your words and photos…they are always just enough, and always enjoyable. I look forward to reading your column every time you post something new. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Leah

    Beautifully put Joe. For me, trying to separate my practice of running from my practice of poetry is nearly impossible. Luckily they seem to behave similarly in that they’ll usually tell you what needs to happen that day – whether or not it fits with the plan! Sometimes you plan on a well rounded, flowing narrative sort of a long poem (or run), and in the end what needs to come out is short and punchy. Other times you set out with the intention of going for the jugular and what you get is gentle and meditative. I suppose in both cases it’s the feeling you bring to the practice on that day that dictates what happens more than the surroundings?
    All of this said, it is giving me a thought that perhaps it’s worth trying a project where poetry is written to match to particular runs, much like adding lyrics to music. Something to mull on!

  4. Neil

    Every time i finish a long run i always have the urge to write. It might be after a short duration in the pain cave or it might be nature that invigorates me. Regardless of the reason, Running brings me down to just words and picture and i love it

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