Well over a year ago I started a new habit: reading poetry every morning with my coffee. Why poetry? Partly for what it isn’t.
- It isn’t news, so it doesn’t start my day with something sad or awful or world-ending in its implications.
- It isn’t social media so I’m not messing with my ability to concentrate.
- It isn’t fiction, so I don’t get sucked into something un-put-downable and lose traction at the beginning of the day.
- It isn’t nonfiction–I’m not quite ready to learn new facts, which is a big part of my work life as it is.
And I read it for what it is, for what it gives me:
- I enjoy the beauty of words I can savor and reread in the moment.
- I do learn, but I’m learning about myself, life, and the world, not transportation policy and practice.
- I can travel to a part of the world I’ve never seen, or get up close and personal with the tiniest of particles.
Along the way I started collecting poems with references to bicycling. I didn’t go searching for those; I get enough bike content on a daily basis. They turned up serendipitously, like something beautiful or interesting or strange spotted on a bike ride.
They aren’t all “bike poems” in the sense of being poems about bicycling. Many provide a glimpse of a bicycle as part of the observation of everyday life; some use the bicycle as metaphor; and yes, some straight up praise the joy and freedom of bicycling.
I started a thread of these on Twitter and invited people to suggest others so the list grew.
Do you have a favorite poem about bicycles, or one that mentions them? Starting a thread because I’ve run across a couple recently that I had never read before, hoping to find more.— Barb Chamberlain (@BarbChamberlain) August 15, 2022
I expect the list to keep growing (whether or not there’s a Twitter where my thread can keep growing is a separate question). I offer this roundup of links with a line or excerpt from each.
“Bike” by Michael Laskey:
clear of the wheel of myself.”
“Things I Learned at University” by Kate Bingham:
“How to bike on cobblestones and where to signal right.”
“Table” by Edip Cansever, translated from Turkish by Julia Clare Tillinghast and Richard Tillinghast:
“He put there the light that came in through the window,
Sounds of a bicycle, sound of a spinning wheel.
The softness of bread and weather he put there.”
“One Candle Now, Then Seven More” by Brad Aaron Modling:
spin till we collapse, but we still
have a hub: Even at dusk,
the sun isn’t going anywhere.”
“Machines” by Michael Donaghy:
“Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.
The machinery of grace is always simple.”
“The Ingredient” by Martin Stannard:
“A bike has it, if it is a very very old bike.”
“Ode: To depict a (bicycle), you must first come to love (it)” by Gillian Allnutt:
“I swear by every rule in the bicycle
that I love you, I who have repeatedly,
with accompanying declaration of despair,
tried to repair”
“Seasonal without Spring: Autumn” by Andrés Cerpa:
my bicycle beside me in the withered & yet-to-be leaves,
& my eyes closed fast beneath the mystery of migration, the flock’s rippled wake:”
“Stage 5: Irun to Bilbao” in a poem series on La Vuelta 2022 by Dane Hamann:
“The day spent spending
legs, energy, chances,
the crowded slopes,”
“Boggle Hole” by Cliff Yates:
“Two new mountain bikes chained to the fence,
three horses lean over, bite at the tyres,
get the chain between their teeth,
eat most of a saddle and a handlebar grip.”
“Ode to Bicycles” by Pablo Neruda:
at the door,
does it have a soul,”
“The Migration of Bicycles” by Nancy Willard:
“…yet a whole pack
will stand for hours in the rain
yoked to each other, chained to the rack
till the shops close.”
“Sunday on the Bike Path” by Richard Greene:
some properly uniformed
in Star Trek helmets and Spandex,
some violating the dress code shamelessly;
families with kids on small bikes,
littler ones in child seats and trailers,…”
“The World Has Need of You” by Ellen Bass:
“A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.”
“notes from the observatory, part 2” by Maya Stein:
“A best friend was anyone who got on their bike and rode alongside you.”
“signs of life” by Maya Stein:
“and the boy was riding a bicycle, and his mother was keeping a few feet behind him,
hair loose at her neck, arms untethered, watching herself let go and watching him fly.”
I’ll close with gratitude to @bonnevivante on Twitter for pointing to this last one. It’s perfection. The last line in this poem is chef’s-kiss.
“The Bicycle Poem” by Mary Fons:
“bicycles are universal/but they are made for girls/they fill the space”
Keep it rolling
Did this introduce you to a new-to-you poet? A sub-genre of poetry you’ve been following for some time, or one you hadn’t ever really thought about? Have you written a bike poem you want to share? Your poetry and links invited in the comments! I fully anticipate another post like this in the future.