Travel occupies a troubled, often contradictory place in the modern world. Travel is more accessible than it’s ever been, giving many whose parents might have never left their country’s borders an opportunity to broaden their horizons, while digital media have reinvented and expanded travel writing. However, such easy access has also exacerbated problems associated with the travel industry, pushing aside all other concerns in the name of finding oneself.
In Travelogue, Paige Melin doesn’t shy away from the complexity of travel as a salve for one’s own personal life. The opening poem, “051019” (the titles are all dates), is laced with excitement, but also anxiety and a fear of self-destruction: she has never “wished so hard to break / off a piece / of myself” to leave back home, suggesting a fear of losing herself in her travels. At the same time, she recognizes that she no longer has complete agency, having surrendered to her travels: “nothing will pull me / from this trajectory”, she writes, “not even its own / destruction”.
Language functions as a site of transformation for the speaker. In “241019”–presumably not long after the speaker’s arrival–language and experience overlap: “new words as containers / of new contexts”, and “as textures / sand-strewn roads / dance parties that run into next mornings”. Later, she begins to think “in franglais”, which leads to a wonderful poem, “040220”, which moves seamlessly between English and French as she asks to be allowed to “breathe just a little bit longer”.
Transformation in the collection is the interplay between construction and destruction, and in “041119”, the speaker finds the root of her longing to travel in an escape from an impending marriage. She finds beauty in the incessant breaks: “the beauty of breaking / is the possiblity of repair, / using gold-flecked glue / to mend all the cracks.” At the end of the collection, in a restaurant with another traveler, she compares perspectives, simultaneously looking back at what she’s left while acknowledging that “this is our lives now”.
This travelogue isn’t a triumph of self-recognition, but rather just an experience, a movement from one place and one time to another, from one person to another. As a collection, it doesn’t deny travel’s ability to transform. But, it questions the contemporary impulse to rely on travel as refuge–the speaker is no longer in her storm, but she still feels the distance between here and home.