Last Friday afternoon, local poet Crystal Hoffman took the first steps on a cross-country journey — literally. Over the next several months, Hoffman plans to walk from West Virginia to the Pacific Coast.
Her Poetry Pilgrim expedition is part adventure, part art project. Along the way, Hoffman is interviewing people she meets and turning their stories into poems — “hero’s journeys” of their own.
“I've got about forty miles and two poems behind me now,” Hoffman wrote to CP in an email this morning from the town of Ellenboro.
Hoffman, 28, is known around here as one of The Typewriter Girls, a literary performance-art group active in the gallery scene. We’re guessing she’s not hiking in the outfit depicted in this photo of herself she sent:
It’s a good thing she’s experienced at camping and hiking: That first segment includes lots of forestland and some mountainous terrain. And of course it’s practically still winter.
Poetry Pilgrim was inspired by numerous cross-country walkers, including the legendary Peace Pilgrim, who made walked more than 25,000 miles from 1953-1981. However, Hoffman says she was most recently spurred by an NPR report about a man who set out to replicate Peace Pilgrim’s efforts, but gave up after three days.
Hoffman plans to camp out most of the way. Instead of a backpack, she’s using a Runabout cart, a durable wheeled contraption holding her tent, sleeping bag and other gear, including both her laptop computer and “my lightest typewriter,” a manual Olivetti. The latter is for writing the poems she’s gleaning from her encounters, and whose original copies will be given to her interview subjects.
Hoffman adds that she knows a lot of folks in poetry circles around the U.S., so she’ll have roofs to stay under part of the time. She expects to set up Poetry Pilgrim events in coffeehouses and libraries.
Hoffman grew up in Nantyglo, Pa., and attended Carlow University. Recent gigs have included teaching creative writing at American University, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Initially, she intended to walk to Vancouver, an estimated 2,550 miles away. But now she says she’s not sure where she’ll conclude the walk, or even when (though she’s shooting for late August). She expects much of the journey, at least after the first leg, will be on rural roads and rails-to-trails paths. She plans to navigate mostly with maps and and atlas she’s bringing.
“The big thing is meeting people and leaving myself open to opportunities.”
Typewriter and maps notwithstanding, Hoffman is embracing new technology, too. Follow her blog posts at this site.