CANTON — It’s cheating to describe Michael Czarnecki as a poet. Poetry might be his foot in the door, but once he’s inside, he is much more than a poet. He is mostly, in his own words, an encourager.
In 1971, Mr. Czarnecki stuck out his thumb and hitchhiked 30,000 miles around the Northeast.
When he realized the 25th anniversary of that journey was approaching, he decided on a different adventure. One not as precarious as hitchhiking, but daunting nonetheless. Mr. Czarnecki spent 20 days on Route 20 from Boston to the Pacific Ocean in a 1993 Honda Civic. Along the way he bartered for hotel rooms, gave poetry readings and wandered through small town America.
That trip became a book, Twenty Days on Route 20.
Now, Mr. Czarnecki is on the road again. This time, the Steuben County resident is traveling the length of Route 11, which stretches from Rouses Point in the north and ends in New Orleans, La. in the south.
“French Canadian to Cajun Country,” he said.
He has stops planned along the way. He spoke at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Watertown on Thursday and he has readings and workshops planned in Irish pubs in Pennsylvania and Virginia and in churches and libraries sprinkled along his path.
He’s traveled other roads in his life as a poet. He took Route 2 across the Mackinaw Bridge and Route 62 from Niagara Falls to El Paso, Texas.
“But Route 11 crosses Route 20 in Lafayette, New York,” he said. “Whenever I passed 11, I said ‘I’ve gotta do that north south trip, sometime.’ So, this past year, in winter, I said, ‘I have to do that trip this year.’ If you keep putting things off, they don’t happen.”
His account of his 1996 trip on Route 20 was written in haibun, a Japanese literary form that combines condensed prose with haiku.
“Walk after breakfast
Blue water tower, gray sky
Railroad used to pass through here but now all that remains are a few grain buildings, a Depot Street and no sign of railroad tracks.”
Mr. Czarnecki is planning a book from his Route 11 journey but he is not sure what form it will take.
Making a living as a poet isn’t easy. Mr. Czarnecki said he learned early on that the word poetry was very close to the word poverty. He has spread his love of poetry in schools and in workshops and seminars on writing poetry and memoirs and in his publishing house, Foothills Publishing in Kanona, where he has published more than 300 chapbooks and books of poetry.
“Life is rich,” he said as he told one story after another of the people he has met and the connections he has made in his years of writing and wandering.
He starts each day with a spontaneous poem that he posts on his Facebook page.
On the day he set off on his journey down Route 11 he wrote:
car cruises down road
there are close views
split rail fence adjacent to stone wall
flowing river framed by autumn’s color
there are distant views
southern view — sometimes hazy mountains
northern view — glimpses of far-off St. Lawrence River
there are inward views
missing what isn’t here now
wondering what lies ahead
car cruises down road
mind cruises somewhere else