Interview with Anna Polonyi

Photo credit: Richard Beeban

Photo credit: Richard Beeban

How did you decide to walk the Camino?

Growing up in Europe, I had heard about the Camino, but I didn’t think much about it. A Catholic pilgrimage route? Doesn’t sound very cool.

But then, at some point while I was in grad school, our Spanish teacher showed us a documentary about it. Ancient, ancient pilgrimage routes running from all over Europe to this one city in Spain? A network of pilgrim shelters? Walking long-distance? Now you’re talking.

Brenda Ueland in her book If You Want to Write talks about every writer’s need for idleness and leisurely walking. I only read her book recently, but at the time, I felt that need: to actually walk from A to B, all the way, taking your time, with nothing else to do but get to B. I also loved the idea of going off the grid – I left my smartphone at home and went completely offline for a month.

When you set off on your journey did you know you would write about it?

Before I set off, I made a grand list of things I wanted to think about while walking: my goals in life, my fears, that kind of thing. All of that fell away on the road. What emerged was this very quiet, very clear voice that has always been there, but muffled by the noise of my everyday life in Paris. I started writing down what the voice was saying, and stopped worrying about answering high-level questions about where I was going with my life.

What were the challenges of writing Wayword?

The challenge came with the editing: because the pilgrimage is such a time capsule in your life, it’s hard to get back into the headspace you were in when you were on the road. At some point, I realized that if I edit the poems any more, they’ll have become something else entirely. Like that thought experiment with Theseus’s ship: is it still the same ship if all its components have gradually been replaced?

What were the rewards?

Because the Camino so different from the way we usually live our lives, it also feels slightly unreal once it’s over. When I came back to Paris, I felt like I had been in the wardrobe from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I had been to the end of the world (literally! Finisterra, the most Western tip of Spain, is called “the End of the Earth”) and back, while in Paris, life had barely inched forward in a month. Writing and sharing the poems helped keep that experience from fading too fast.

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What books are on your nightstand?

Nothing Special: Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck
Judas by Amos Oz
Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles (for real!)
A Franco-Hungarian edition of Attila Jozsef’s poems

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Be bold and always tell the truth.  -Brenda Ueland

What advice would you give to someone interested in walking the Camino?

First off: Do it! Now, rather than later. People interested in the Camino put it off for years because it seems like a big project, but once you’re walking, you end up wondering: “How come I didn’t do this earlier?”

Also: even if you think you’ve packed light, think again. Every single gram counts. I met someone on the road who was getting rid of band-aids and tampons because they were weighing her down (that made it into a poem!).

What’s next?

I’m very excited for Wayword to come out in February 2017 with Finishing Line Press. It’s already available to pre-order now: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/wayword-by-anna-polonyi/

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