Far ranging in its geography, Waypoints is a collection of poems that mark the itinerary of a poet wanderer—in matter and mind—over many years. As he acknowledges in his statement about the book, Delaney often writes about places he has been because, like a GPS system, they reflect the ups and downs, turns and twists (tone and tenor), of the mental and emotional life-journey he has been taking. Believing there is no better teacher and no better resource for the imagination than nature, Delaney is most grounded when he is in some remote place, enjoying the challenge it presents and the adventure it becomes.
John Delaney recently retired after 35 years in the Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections of Princeton University Library, where he was head of manuscripts processing and then, for the last 15 years, curator of historic maps. He has written a number of works on cartography, including Strait Through: Magellan to Cook and the Pacific; First X, Then Y, Now Z: An Introduction to Landmark Thematic Maps; and Nova Caesarea: A Cartographic Record of the Garden State, 1666-1888. These have extensive website versions. He has written poems for most of his life, and, in the 1970s, he attended the Writing Program of Syracuse University, where his mentors were poets W. D. Snodgrass and Philip Booth. No doubt, in subtle ways, they have bookended his approach to poems. John has traveled widely, preferring remote, natural settings, and is addicted to kayaking and hiking.
From The PT Leader:
A map curator and world traveler who recently relocated to Port Townsend has published a book of place-based poems. Each poem in John Delaney’s “Waypoints” captures a locale he’s visited. And alongside each poem are the location’s latitude and longitude, so curious readers can explore the exact place on Google Earth, with destinations that include Africa, South America and national parks in the states.
“I’m always more interested in traveling to more remote places,” said Delaney.
Delaney started traveling at a young age, he said. He remembers being 10 or 11 years old when his mother took the whole family across the country in a station wagon. “It took all summer, basically,” Delaney said of the 12,000-mile adventure. Right after graduating from college (Syracuse University, where he studied writing), Delaney left for Europe. “Back in the ’70s, it was popular for kids to go over to Europe and backpack and stay in hostels.” Over the years, odd jobs took him all over the country, and he started to travel the world, too, going to Asia, Africa and South America.
“It’s fresh, it’s new, it challenges you,” he said of why he likes to travel. “You’re out of your element, out of your comfort zone.”
The places he was most drawn to, he said, were ones that still look like they did hundreds of years ago.
“It’s a big world out there,” he said. And he wants to see the natural world before it’s gone. Travel also provides insight into how the rest of the world is coping every day, he said, and makes him appreciate home that much more.
Delaney has been writing all his life. But writing poetry doesn’t pay the bills, and life and work intervened before he could go about publishing a book of poetry. A one-year job he applied for at Princeton University ended up turning into a 35-year career, one that, in its final years, complemented his penchant for travel. For most of his career at Princeton, he worked with modern manuscripts: diaries, letters, essays and correspondence from writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Then, an opportunity arose for him to curate maps, specifically maps that were printed before 1919. “Old maps printed on copper plates in color are absolutely gorgeous things,” he said. For this traveler, working with maps was the perfect match, and during those years, he wrote several books on cartography.
WAYPOINTS: Referring to the title of his book of poems, Delaney said that waypoints are used when hiking with a GPS system to later review the journey. Poetry, too, can be a waypoint, he said, a reflection of the emotional journey. The book is published by Pleasure Boat Studio. Delaney sought out the press because it is now the umbrella for Empty Bowl Press, an old Port Townsend publisher. The final product represents a collaboration between poet and publisher, Delaney said. Delaney had originally submitted a small chapbook of some place poems he’d curated from all the poems – of various themes – he’s written over the years, but the publisher wanted something larger, so Delaney submitted more poems inspired by his travels.
“The book grew from that germ, that idea of having a group of poems about places – to a bigger book about places,” he said. The publisher also suggested that he add photographic illustrations, so Delaney included photos taken from a trek to Machu Picchu that inspired the haiku he wrote about that place.
Delaney has been around the world over the years, but recently decided to make Port Townsend his home. It’s an easy fit – he’s always loved the Northwest, and he has family close by. And it’s not only geographically beautiful, he said, it’s full of culture, too. “I’ve never seen a town of about 10,000 have so much going on,” the world traveler said. He’s already thinking about what his next book of poetry might be – something focused on the concept of rhumb lines, used in plotting navigational charts and which share an element with poetry: lines. For the moment, Delaney is content with his first book. “It’s fun having your book out with a name on it,” he said.