Reviews

Following Wind, Following Water

Michael Hayward

In Daniel Canty’s The United States of Wind: A Travelogue (translated by Oana Avasilichioaei, Talon) we accompany Canty and fellow air-onaut Patrick Beaulieu on a wind-blown odyssey through the American midwest, part of a project named Ventury: A Trans-Frontier Odyssey Trailing American Winds, which was originally conceived in Montreal by Beaulieu. Each day their destination is to be determined by an interpretation of signs: “a weathervane and a retractable wind cone” mounted onto the roof of “the Blue Rider, a venerable midnight-blue Ford Ranger.” Appropriately, the Blue Rider’s travels began in Chicago, the “Windy City”; a map of their peregrinations resembles Brownian motion: a blue scrawl on the book’s white cover. The United States of Wind presents Canty’s take on this elemental adventure, and a sense of his poetic perspective can be obtained from this small sample of subheadings: “The Key of Dreams,” “Augury Birds,” “Zoetrope Horses,” “Cheshire Socks,” “The Invisible Chateau”; and from this vow—a kind of secular consecration—on the eve of their departure: “Trust the wind. Only it. Like we trust ourselves. And if airborne currents push us seaward, we would find a way to float.” Beaulieu’s website presents an overview of the journey at patrickbeaulieu.ca/en/ventury.

Bill Porter is an itinerant writer, now living in Port Townsend, whose enthusiasms recall the Beat writers of mid-century: the primacy of poetry, a fascination with Eastern thought (Buddhism in particular), the lure of the open road. For several years in the early 199s Porter lived in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where he produced a series of radio broadcasts based on his extensive travels through mainland China. Porter (known also for his translations of classical Chinese poetry under the pen name Red Pine) certainly knows his stuff, and his accounts of those travels—recently transformed into book form—make surprisingly compelling reading, earning Porter a cult following in China. They recall a time when travelling in China was still an adventure, and Westerners a curiosity. In The Silk Road: Taking the Bus to Pakistan (Counterpoint), Porter (accompanied by an old friend and a plastic bottle of whiskey) ventures along the ancient Silk Road route from Sian (also known as Xi’an) to Islamabad, by way of the Khunjerab Pass and Shangri-la. In Yellow River Odyssey (Chin Music), Porter attempts to travel from the mouth of the river known as “the cradle of Chinese civilization” to its source, high in the Bayan Har Mountains of western China. In the final chapter, Porter, his hired driver and two Tibetan guides follow a dirt track as far as they can, and then (spoiler alert) trudge across snowy tundra in thin air and fading light until Porter becomes—possibly—the first Caucasian to reach the Yellow River’s source. Finding Them Gone: Visiting China’s Poets of the Past (Copper Canyon Press) describes a “fast-paced pilgrimage” through present-day China, during which Porter “pays homage to dozens of China’s greatest poets by visiting their graves—or trying to—and performing idiosyncratic rituals with small cups of Kentucky whiskey.” By my count Porter has had five books published in the last two years, from three different publishers; not bad for a seventy-year-old, whiskey-drinking Buddhist poet-sage!

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