kathleen-rooney

“Don’t Forget the Flâneur” - 
Poetry’s rich tradition 
of urban wandering.
– By Kathleen Rooney

This is an excerpt of this article by Kathleen Rooney:

“To be an inquisitive walker in the city is not always to feel delighted, like O’Hara, or transcendent, like Oppen, and such poems can also reveal the city and its dwellers’ darker sides.

Although he’s often thought of as a country poet, Robert Frost deals literally and figuratively with the darkness of urban life in his poem “Acquainted with the Night”:

"I have been one acquainted
with the night.
I have walked out in rain
—and back in rain.
I have outwalked
the furthest city light.
I have looked down
the saddest city lane.”

Frost’s terza rima evokes the rhythm of his speaker’s depressed yet compulsive insomniac perambulation. The lines “I have passed by the watchman on his beat / And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain” capture the unavoidable and not always pleasant intimacy with strangers that city life creates as well as the paradox familiar to many city walkers: one can feel radically alone even in a massive population center.

Found at The Poetry Foundation website.

—  “Don’t Forget the Flâneur” Poetry’s rich tradition 
of urban wandering. By Kathleen Rooney. Article found at The Poetry Foundation website
Robinson Walks Museum Mile

by Kathleen Rooney



the ideal city building itself in his brain.
Is this mile magnificent? He’s lived here

a while, but the mile feels unreal. Robinson’s
training himself to act blasé. Do museums

amuse me? Yes, but not today. Would he
like to be in one? Of course. Why not?

An object of value with canvas wings,
an unchanging face in a gilt frame, arranged–

thoughtless, guilt-free, & preserved
for eternity. Robinson doesn’t want tobe

exceptional. he knows he is. he wants to be
perceived exceptional. Trains plunge by, steam

rising from the greats. Sing, muse! of a man
ill-met at the Met. A man on his lunch break,

heading for heartbreak, a break-up with Time.
A break-up with time? Feeling filled with ice,

the way you chill a glass, Robinson passes
the National Academy. He craves a sense

of belonging, not to always be longing. To be
standing in a doorway, incredibly kissable,

not waiting at the four-way, eminently missable.
Is this mile magnanimous? He wants it

unanimous: that this is his kind of town–
up & down & including Brooklyn. The sky

is clearing, but the isolations sticks.
Robinson’s not sure what a camera obscura

is for, but he thinks he should have
his portrait done with one. Faces

blur as he heads toward the Frick.
Something used to photograph the obscure.

People who don’t read fiction often characterize it as frivolous and as some kind of escape from the world, which it isn’t inherently, nor does it need to be. I’ve learned as much about the world and the people in it—and their motivations—from fiction as I have from nonfiction. Fiction is often a much-needed step back that gives you the distance to see things more clearly; it’s very often better at explaining why events happened as opposed to just what happened. And if a reader believes that everything in non fiction or history is just objectively true, I don’t really know what to tell them, except that at least in fiction, the choice of what perspective and bias to tell a given story from—which is always a deliberate choice—is foregrounded and clear.
—  Kathleen Rooney