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(or even last) at the betrothal to speak a few stanzas from memory, rather they are oddball sorts somehow chained to an outdated thing called “poetry” that few understand, few read, fewer write, and fewest of all recite.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 …

END


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 …

END


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Just riding along

February 14, 2020 § 3 Comments

This is what you say when you’re about to tell a bike story and you want to make it clear that it wasn’t your fault. Bike shops hear it daily. “I was just riding along and my derailleur fell off.”

“I was just riding along and this jersey tore in half.”

“I was just riding along and my forks snapped.”

It’s such a thing that in bike shops it’s called “JRA.”

Yesterday I had finished teaching a class at the LA Law Library in Torrance, after which I rode over to San Pedro to meet with a client. I finished about 4:00 and decided to take the hillier, but shorter and more scenic way home along the coast.

That’s when something happened that I’m pretty sure has never happened before. Think about it. How often can you say you’ve done something on a bike that is a first?

Won the TdF? Yeah, so have a hundred others.

Hour record? Been set lots of times.

KOMd your segment? Ah-hah.

Anyway, there I was, just riding along, and it was windy. Really windy. I had a good 40 minutes of slogging to go, with a backpack, on fat tires, in sneakers, and so I decided to pass the time by practicing The Knight’s Tale.

I’m a little more than 1/4 of the way into this 2,000-line beast, and it has been rough sledding. Before long I’d gotten to Hawthorne, which is a long gradual climb of a few miles up to where I live.

About halfway up I noticed a shadow, and not just any shadow. It was a bicyclist wearing a cowboy hat, a big one, which you don’t see too often, by which I mean “never fucking ever.”

I checked the shadow which was now glued up right behind me, and then I went back to my recitation in Middle English. I figured he was going to pass me.

But he didn’t. Instead, he appeared to be sitting back there listening to the poem, which is weird because it’s not like there are many people who understand Middle English. Away I recited and his shadow remained.

I didn’t look back because one of the key rules in cycling is “don’t look back.”

Soon enough we got to the little steep pitch past Monaco and his shadow moved over to the left. “Here it comes,” I thought, still babbling out loud about “Yow loveres axe I now this question/Who hath the worse, Arcite or Palamon?”

Cowboy pulled up along side me. He didn’t say a word, just looked over and kind of glared. I’ve seen that glare plenty of times. It’s the “I’m gonna drop you now, pal,” glare.

He was bathed in sweat and riding a very old Shirtless Keith-style hybrid bike with a rack, knobbies, and 26-inch wheels. I turned my head slightly, still spitting out Chaucer, as he made his move. However, and this has happened to me more times than I care to remember, once he hit the wind to make his move, he realized that the 30% effort he’d been saving on my wheel was now all gone.

Without changing my pace we rode side by side as he slowly buried himself into the violet, then the light blue, then the green, then the yellow, then the orange, and finally the red, after which there was only the deep red, after which there was the heaving, rolling, roiling, shaking, swaying, gasping, full-body shudder of “blow.”

He spiraled away behind me like a spent rocket stage.

“That,” I said to myself, pausing my recitation, “is certainly the first time in the history of cycling that someone has been dropped by the recitation of a Middle English poem.”

END


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