Monday, 26 May 2014

Poems about bicycles

"Ten poems about bicycles", Jenny Swann (ed), (Candlestick Press, 2009) has poems by Donaghy, Mahon, Helena Nelson et al in a pamphlet sold with an envelope. It's part of a series that has sold well, I believe. They're easy for the seller to deal with, and easy presents to buy and deliver; something a bit different costing not much more than a posh card.

Poets like sitting in trains and waiting at stations, writing while they do so. Trains not infrequently appear in poems - see my post about trains and poetry. Some formalist poets think lines up while walking with a measured gait. Cycling's a mode of transport that appeals to poets, but bicycles haven't received so much poetry coverage. In 1990 I wrote a poem called "Cycling". I recall a rejection slip from "Staple" saying that it contained some lines they liked, and some they didn't like at all. It's never been published - until now

The dynamo's whine comforts you through unlit streets.
If you stop to turn, silence overtakes you. In the darkness,
alone, it's safer to keep going, hard to start again.
Not so with daguerrotypes. Move and you're a ghost.
Move, and your words already lie. A mind that's still
enough to fix upon the page cannot express.
Waiting to turn, it's too easily struck.
Your beam turns with your handlebar as you regain your poise.
Speeding cars shake you as they light your way, leaving you
blindly trusting till your eyes adjust. The patch of future
that your front wheel cannot splash starts flickering
like old cine film. Motion's aim is stillness;
it's difficult to think if you pedal hard enough

This is rather heavy-handedly in the mode of "Machines", Donaghy's poem in this pamphlet. The bicycle featuring in that poem was my first, seen here leaning against our first shed. I inherited it from my uncle when I was 21 or so. I learnt to cycle on it, then used it to pop to France and back on the ferry. It went with me to Bristol, Oxford (where I sprayed it silver), Nottingham and Liverpool before ending up in Cambridge, never worth stealing.

Trying the new baby-seat of a new bicycle. We might still have been carless then. Putting the children in the baby-seat and going for a ride became a reliable way of getting them to sleep. I, like many parents, became skilled at cycling with one hand on the handle-bars and the other behind my back, cupping a child's head. That baby-seat stayed on the bike for a decade or so. I had great trouble getting it off in the end - once a parent always a parent.

My current bicycle (front-top of the double-decker park-space) at Cambridge train station, a hand-me-down from a son who outgrew it. No suspension, never out of top gear, easy to carry.

Our loft now. My first bike is in pieces, upside down - you can see the rusty chain and big gear-wheel. In front of that are 2 red bikes (one barely visible) - birthday presents to our sons that will be useful later.

My son's old bicycle in an Edinburgh tenement block, illuminated by a skylight 3 floors above. I recall in my Bristol bedsit parking the bike in my room. I guess the stair-well's an improvement - photogenically anyway.

On July 9th the Tour de France will be passing the end of my road, so we'll be stuck for hours. I'm not expected to work on that day so I might get some poetry done thanks to cycling.

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