Every Atom | No. 168

Lauren Camp

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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I selected this philosophical passage that comes close to the end of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” while on a long trip—from my home in the high desert of New Mexico to a wide valley in Montana. I made the trip solo, three days driving, two weeks in situ. A plain public road. The landscapes I covered were unfamiliar and enormous. 


So, in some ways, the passage felt already familiar. 


But it was also what I was doing on that trip, and perhaps what we are each doing in our lives. We move through—a day to a next. Our goals are big or small. I was heading to a residency and went without a project or even a plan of what to work on. What I wanted, the surprise of my own creativity, was only possibly within reach. I wouldn’t know if I could find it until I started. 


Perhaps the word in this passage that interests me most is “public.” We do our living in whatever community we choose. Even the choice to be alone is, in some ways, a public one in current society. We pull away. Publicly, it becomes clear that we are being private. 


Perhaps it is every where on water and on land. 


I’ve begun to wonder how real we are—our surroundings, our lives. How can I tell you about where I’ve been? Will my photos “bring it to life,” or is it only inside me? How can I tell you what it took to create that last poem? I can’t. You have to make a different journey to your own poems. 


The passage seems encouraging to me. Whitman offers, or maybe pushes, in the direction of the road we’ve hardly noticed—through life, through creativity, through interaction, effort, awareness. It is not far… it is within reach. Get on it. Go somewhere. 


As I was leaving Montana, a moose moved across the road. Sandhills up and to the left. I made a turn toward a place called Hidden Lake that seemed wrong. I stopped to ask directions of the only folks in sight. A man with a revolver strapped to his chest talked me through the curves I’d need to take to get to my destination. He was kind. I had a hard time looking at his face because of the gun. His landscape is different from mine. I turned around and went on. Everything was unfamiliar and I was going into the light, going everywhere.

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Lauren Camp is the author of four books of poems. Her poems have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Pleiades, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Dorset Prize, fellowships from Black Earth Institute and The Taft-Nicholson Center, and a finalist citation for the Arab American Book Award.


Cover art by Maddie Bonthuis