Vagabond Song Marc Beaudin

    icon Sep 03, 2015
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Many people throughout the Saginaw Arts community will remember poet Marc Beaudin, who populated many Old Town Saginaw cafes & bistros with poetry readings and theatrical forays ‘back in the day’ until taking to the road and moving to Montana, where he opened his own bookstore, called Elk River Books; and continued to pursue his avid & dedicated interest in creative writing.

On September 3rd Beaudin is releasing his latest work, entitled  Vagabond Song: Neo-Haiburn from the Peregrine Journals, in both print & Ebook formats. Blending the genres of memoir, travel, & poetry, the 244-page excursion unfolds like an impressionistic series of trip logs reminiscent of Kerouac and blending elements of hippie folk pioneer Richard Brautigan with the broad quest also shared by Ken Kesey for discovering both sturdiness  and serenity within the parameters of America’s remote landscapes.

Thus far pre-release reviews have been positive. Brautigan biographer William Hjortsberg refers to Vagabond Song as “a poet’s song to the rewards of wandering and the joy of the highway. It’s a bracing tonic and one this sorry, sad-assed, gadget-obsessed nation needs to hear again and again.”

If nothing else the work is as ambitious as it is fluid, as Beaudin recounts his hitchhiking and road trip adventures from Central America and Britain to the American west and Midwest. Setting out from a small cabin in northern Michigan, Beaudin hits the road seeking a poetry of freedom & wilderness, both physical & psychic, by confronting the ravages of history, religion and greed, along with his own fears and hypocrisies while incessantly seeking lessons to be learned in the wild expansive spaces of earth & mind.

Recently I had the pleasure to engage in the following exchange with Marc Beaudin about his latest work, how he’s been spending his time since departing the Saginaw Valley, and lessons he’s learned along the way.

Review: How did you get the idea of 'Vagabond Song' and please tell me about the genesis of the book -  when did you start it and what were some of the literary goals & objectives that you had going into the project?

Beaudin: The original idea – nearly 25 years ago – was to do a small chapbook that I could stash in my backpack and give out, as a way of saying thanks to people who gave me rides, a meal or a crash pad when I was hitching. It was going to be a short collection of the road poems I was writing at the time. That never happened and it remained on the back burner for so long I forgot it was there. But then about two years ago I pulled out a beer carton full of all my old journals and the concept for the final structure fell into place as I read them.

I’ve long considered Bashō one of the greatest poets I’ve read, and have been inspired by his haibun – a blend of prose and haiku he created to relate his own travels. My idea, as a way to tell the stories that gave rise to my road poems, was to adapt the form, what I call “neo-haibun” since most of my poetry isn’t haiku. Most of my haiku probably isn’t strictly haiku for that matter. But I wanted to create something where prose and poetry could flow back and forth and tell a story that neither alone would be able to do.

As far as a literary goal, at some point, early on, I gave myself the dictum: “Every line must sing.” I wanted every single line on every page to have music – which is to say; harmony, balance, motion, precision, beauty and mystery. At least that’s what music is to me. This led to the use of musical terminology in the structure of the book: interludes, caesurae, movements instead of chapters, a coda at the end and ultimately the title using the word “song.” Of course, I fail. Every line doesn’t sing. Only Nature can be perfect. But as Miscellaneous Jones says, “If you’re not on a pointless quest, you may as well get a job.”

Review:    Parts of this were highly reminiscent of Kerouac's 'Big Sur'; and I am assuming that  Kerouac formed some of the inspiration behind this; but what other authors have informed your work and how are you striving to expand upon and evolve that Beat tradition of creating poetic memoirs?

Beaudin: I’m inspired by many authors, as well as musicians and other artists, but I don’t think I’d necessarily list Kerouac. It’s not that I don’t like him – I do. I think Dharma Bums is a great book. – It’s just that I didn’t read him until after I’d been on my own road for quite some time. And I think, as far as style goes, the road itself is the mentor, the inspiration. In Kerouac’s work, I hear the same voice as in Jack London’s The Road and Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory, as well as in The Way of a Pilgrim and The Odyssey. The road (or rail or wine-dark sea) engenders a way of expression. A traveling voice that’s often found in the Beats, but didn’t start or end there.

That said, the people who have taught me the most include Neruda, Roethke, Coltrane, García Márquez, Kazantzakis, Faruq Z. Bey, James Joyce, Edward Abbey, Fred Anderson, Van Gogh, Chang Tzu, Rothko, Peter Matthiessen, Brahms; as well as (those still on earth) Doug Peacock, Terry Tempest Williams, Jim Harrison, William Heyen, Gina Myers, Greg Klyma, Ani Difranco, Mike Johnston, Suzan-Lori Parks, John Francis Bueche … I could go on forever. Every artist could.

Review:    What was the most challenging component involved with developing this project?

Beaudin: The most challenging component was keeping my cat off the typewriter keys while I was working. Seriously, what is it with cats and their jealousy of books and writing? This book was generous with itself, it was a joy to write – to relive those wild, precarious days but with the distance needed to make sense of it all. And the support I felt of my wife and step-kids, my cousins out here, and even my cat … they made it easy to come down to my basement room every morning and stare at a sheet of paper until the words began to flow.

Review:    What else have you been occupying yourself with apart from writing since you left Saginaw?

Beaudin: Other than getting married, opening a book store, founding a theatre company, nearly getting killed by the Yellowstone River and swimming with a whale shark in Baja, not much. Mostly just enjoying this incredibly beautiful place where I live. Oh, and chickens. We’re raising chickens now.

Review:  How has the pre-release feedback been from the book thus far?

Beaudin: Humbling. Some very good writers, some of those I most respect for their dedication to the craft, have responded with truly embarrassingly positive feedback. Walter Kirn, William Hjortsberg, Doug Peacock, Tami Haaland and Rick Bass all responded in ways that made me remember how important words on paper can be. They made me want to keep writing.

The strongest, and most humbling, response came from one of our best poets, William Heyen. I first met Bill when Al Hellus brought him to Saginaw for the Roethke Festival years ago. His charitable words about this book were so insightful and revelatory (as always) that they have become the foreword for it. I can’t imagine a better honor to receive.

Review:   Please tell me where it will be available.

Beaudin: The best place to buy it is from any local, independent bookstore. They are the lifeblood of the culture of the neighborhood. Have them order it. They will get their much-deserved cut and I’ll get mine. If there is no longer that option; my local, independent bookstore is available at But seriously, find and support your local, indie store. Not just for books, but for coffee, clothes, food, beer, music and art.

As Harry Tuttle says, “We’re all in this together, kid.”




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