Dec 102022
“I think/therefore/I ride.” A Bike Rack of Bicycle Poems

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.

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
…pulling me
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
We might
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)’ Alexander Blok” by Gillian Allnutt
I swear by every rule in the bicycle
owner’s manual

that I love you, I who have repeatedly,

with accompanying declaration of despair,
tried to repair

Seasonal without Spring: Autumn” by Andrés Cerpa
Autumn: dusk:

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,
cutting through
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
and waiting
at the door,
the bicycle,
only moving
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
Bicyclists pass:
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.

Sharing is karma--pass it along!

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