How many of us have had the experience of visiting a city for the first time and admiring a particular street without knowing where it is in relation to the rest? Often, it’s not until you’ve lived in a city for a while that you begin to piece the spaces together—this park just a few blocks from that restaurant or that neighborhood just on the other side of this one. The sense of discovery, enjoying the known and the unknown and moving among them, is an intellectual and sensory pleasure.
The names of places, like the names of birds, or plants, or people, can be evocative, quite aside from actual experience. Coalinga and Novi, tanager and starling, ragweed and japonica, Uriah Heep and Ghostface Killah, Nevsky Prospect and 34th Street have a presence as words that makes one want to see them in reality.
A gradual process of figuring out sights, sounds, and atmospheres applies to works of art, as well. Particular titles, images, rhythms, or moods in a poem can have an effect like that of street names—offering a way through an imaginative landscape where complexity adds to possibility. You can learn something from returning to a familiar neighborhood years after you lived there, a new blend of the familiar and the mysterious, and possibly, a new awareness of one’s own tastes, character, memories, habits.