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(or even last) at the betrothal to speak a few stanzas from memory, rather they are oddball sorts somehow chained to an outdated thing called “poetry” that few understand, few read, fewer write, and fewest of all recite.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 …
Read this far? Then maybe it’s time to Go ahead and hit this “subscribe” link. Thank you!