Fear of poetry

July 7, 2020 § 6 Comments

If you want to scare people, tell them that you would like to recite a poem. It’s worse than telling them you’d like to sing them a song, or telling them you’d like to show them an album of your drawings.

Offering up something artistic or performancey uninvited is like an unattractive stranger saying “Hey, I’d like to take off my clothes and show you some stuff.” It’s almost criminal.

How did it get to be this way?

After (maybe) music, poems are the oldest form of art. In English, prose literature didn’t even come into being until, arguably, 1719, with the publication of Robinson Crusoe. Before that, the person who wrote about life and love was the poet.

Nowadays, of course, poets are strangely unfavorable people, never invited to the great feasts to recount an epic of love or war, never first (or even last) at the betrothal to speak a few stanzas from memory, rather they are oddball sorts somehow chained to an outdated thing called “poetry” that few understand, few read, fewer write, and fewest of all recite.

Yet poetry somehow soldiers on, clutching at the hearts and minds of people when they least expect it, like the time in a coffeeshop in Ventura when a cycling buddy recited a poem of Lord Byron’s that he’d learned by heart in high school. He claimed that he had learned it to “impress the girls,” but since I wasn’t a girl and since the days of being single were for him decades in the past, I was unconvinced, particularly as I listened to the cadence, inflection, and feeling with which he spoke.

In my own case, as I slowly close in on being able to recite the first 3,800 lines from the Canterbury Tales, it occurs to me that only two people have ever actually asked me to recite any of it. One is a friend; the other was a stranger who invited a recitation but made sure I knew that “just a minute or so” would be enough.

As Manslaughter put it, “Really looking forward to hearing something I can’t understand.” Which is a good point.

On the other hand, with poetry you don’t really know what you’re going to understand until you hear it. The things you might think are opaque can be brilliantly clear. The things you might think you know might be swirling, dark enigmas. This is in fact all, in my opinion, that poetry really is: Putting the best words to the right feelings.

In this way, all cyclists are more or less poets because bicycling is putting the best actions to the right feelings. Whether you’re stomping out your aggression, lazily wending a happy and carefree way, thoughtfully threading a cross-country course, or necessarily pedaling to the grocery store to quell a hunger, cycling has always been described as poetry in motion, not because the motion is always graceful, but because the motion always seeks to match itself to the way you feel.

But don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to listen to my recitation the next time we cross paths on the bike simply because I’m a poet and you’re a poet. Unless, of course, you have five hours or so to spare …


Tagged: , ,

§ 6 Responses to Fear of poetry

  • Byron was the Marvin Gaye of his time! It’s sad that poetry, once a ubiquitous conveyance of knowledge and ideas, seems to have almost been forgotten by the mainstream- like a ghost ship.

  • BobN says:

    Walt Whitman has been showing up in car commercials. That got me to pick up Leaves of Grass for the first time. I think I must have read a sample in high school.

  • 1seans says:

    Maybe our definitions of poetry are different but I’d say poetry is alive and thriving thanks to rap/hip hop. One could argue that poetry is more popular than ever. I’m pretty sure Chaucer can be put to a beat.

    It would be a fail if I didn’t mention Street Poets, an amazing organization here in LA that harnesses poetry and music to heal at-risk and incarcerated youth. http://www.streetpoetsinc.com. The power of poetry is very real to this community.

    • nealhe says:

      That is a good call on hip hop and rap rhymes …. my granddaughter likes them … I do not …

      Gettin’ harder and harder to recognize the trap
      Too much information about nothin’
      Too much educated rap
      It’s just like you told me, just like you said it would be

      Bob Dylan

      Bob Dylan (met him once about a year ago on a bike ride … he was walking his bike up a hill … a brand new high end Colagno road bike … with beginner flat pedals and he was wearing moccasins … We stopped and chatted for a bit about bikes)

      When I read a human memorized Pi (interesting to see if there is an error rate in reproduction) …..

      Thanks to Miss Google:

      In 1981, an Indian man named Rajan Mahadevan accurately recited 31,811 digits of pi from memory. In 1989, Japan’s Hideaki Tomoyori recited 40,000 digits. The current Guinness World Record is held by Lu Chao of China, who, in 2005, recited 67,890 digits of pi. Mar 13, 2015

      Begs the question …. Why did Lu Chao quit at 67,890 digits?

      I am curious as to how many words are in the first 3,800 lines from the Canterbury Tales?

      Where is this on the spectrum of human memorized material?

      Or how long did it take Lu Chao to recite his Pi?

      Does using up brain storage for this sort of material reduce space for storage of important stuff like addresses and social security numbers as put forth by Sherlock Holmes?

      “Are you a quick decision maker or do you take longer to mull over a question before you can form an answer?

      According to Sherlock Holmes, when it comes to making decisions, you might be distracted by the clutter in your brain. The fictional character described his analogy in “A Study in Scarlet” in which he suggests that man’s brain is like an attic. The fool will stuff all sorts of furniture and items in his brain attic so that the useful information becomes lost in the clutter. The wiser man will store only the tools that will help him do his work and have it organized so that it can be accessed quickly and easily.

      Maria Konnikova shares this theory in “Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: Cultivate What You Know to Optimize How You Decide,” posted in Blogs on ScientificAmerican.com. According to Holmes’ theory, it would be difficult for us to make decisions if there are so many distractions that can keep us from evaluating the facts. Our emotions, personal impressions, or other irrational or unnecessary distractions can impact our decision-making process which could cause us to make poor decisions or take too long to make a decision.

      We can add, rearrange, and change the type of information that we store in our brain. Konnikova suggests that we should occasionally take stock of what is in our brain attic to see if we are storing the information that keeps us productive and making smart, timely decisions, or if we are collecting clutter.

      Make smarter decisions faster by having your facts at the tip of your brain, so to speak.”

      When can we get my memory chip implanted?

      Will memory chips be regarded as a PED and added to WADA prohibitted list?


  • Joe says:

    I became a subscriber a few days back, today I upped my UM/UIM insurance, 4 days ago I did an overnight bikepacking trip on mt Lowe and then hit Wilson in the AM. Next week I am doing some bikepacking on Catalina. I have a 12 year old sourdough starter and kicked out loaves long before covid made it cool. I’m also old and slow on the bike. Pack light, one folding knife, don’t cook in your boiling pot, tents are overrated but sometimes a Bivy bag is your best friend. I also read for pleasure and it’s not unheard of for me to reply to questions at works with a fragment of poem mainly for my own amusement. I guess I just wanted to say, I’m enjoying it here

What’s this?

You are currently reading Fear of poetry at Cycling in the South Bay.


%d bloggers like this: