A few of the poems in Cultural Tourism were included in the earliest manuscript of An Imaginary Hellas, and so date back twenty years or so to when I was still living in New York. Some were written during a period of residency at The Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. Others came about on trips to Italy, either while I was at The American Academy in Rome or during a tour of Northern Italy made after I delivered a paper at an Ezra Pound conference in Venice.
I’ve always taken travel seriously, viewing it as a form of education rather than as a diversion from “real life.” Any serious poet, following the paths of Keats or Browning, would feel it so. And translation, of course, is the linguistic analogue to travel. Trips to Italy are a particular pilgrimage for English speakers whose sense of poetic identity is tied to ancient and medieval authors, while the Rive Gauche is essential for those who like to consider themselves Bohemian. In my late twenties, I was very fortunate to live for extended periods in Paris, Florence and Amsterdam.
On the Outer Cape, where my family and I now reside, the phrase “cultural tourism” has recently been coined in an attempt to justify state expenditure on private institutions such as museums and art schools. But long before there was any such funding or formalized association, artists and writers came to the area as a sort of bargain alternative to overseas travel. Even now, many who’ve chosen to settle here would not thrive elsewhere in America. As in certain special European locales, those who’ve committed themselves to a life of the imagination seem to have remained here as its perpetual inhabitants.