It’s a long way from Pasadena City Hall to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, but for District 3 Liaison/poet/writer Susana Porras, the path exists comfortably between the covers of her new book, To Compostela and Beyond! A Poet’s Chronicle of the Camino De Santiago.
The book is a collection of 39 sonnets composed on 39 days and nights, as Porras traversed the historic pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. The walk, known in English as “The Way of St. James,” is a network of pilgrims’ ways or pilgrimages leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, to the north of Portugal.
The most common route, the Camino Frances, is approximately 480 miles from the starting point in Saint Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees, in Southwestern France, to the finish in Santiago de Compostela.
Porras, who has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Central America, undertook the trip in 2018 with her 73-year-old father, and considers it a highlight of her life.
“My inspiration for this book came from the desire to chronicle this special, once-in-a-lifetime trip with my father, and to share the journey with my friends,” said Porras in an interview provided by her publicist.
“My secondary inspiration was, of course, Shakespeare,” she said. “The Shakespearean sonnet, with its 14 ten-syllable lines, was the perfect solution to the challenge of writing unique, fun, and short, yet detailed journal entries. I found its elegant structure, manageable size, and lyric rhyme scheme to be both timeless and classic, yet wonderfully engaging and readable.”
The complete trip, which most pilgrims walk, though others cycle, or even drive, can be arduous, with different terrains and weather across the landscape, and for Porras, the poems became her respite and solace from a day’s walk.
As she recalled, “I wrote the original 39 sonnets on the Camino over 39 days. Every day, after our day’s travel, I would pen a sonnet before going to sleep. After hiking fifteen to twenty miles each day, you can imagine how challenging that was, but I was determined! The process of then transforming the 39 sonnets into the (actual) book took about one year.”
Porras then added all of the traditional book components, but found the footnotes portion to be the most valuable
“The footnotes required the greatest amount of work,” she said. ‘They were necessary to provide the reader with the most complete understanding of each journal entry.”
As a self-admitted “research nerd,” Porras is torn as to which she loves more, the research or the poetry.
“My favorite childhood book is Shel Silverstein’s, Where the Sidewalk Ends, she recalls. “I absolutely loved reading and rereading the collection of fun, quirky poems. As a child, I must have checked out this book at least one hundred times, until the librarian called me over and said, ‘Susana, you do know we have other books in the library, don’t you?’
She still has a well-worn copy on her bookshelf, she said, always at the ready to inspire more books.