Motorcycle literature has a long history, from TE Lawrence (Of Arabia) to modern tales of adventure travel by Lois Pryce, and it's not just prose that has a long history on the subject either. I started this tribe in November 2016 right at the very start of Drivetribe, it was originally as a continuation of my, admittedly mostly poor, motorcycle poetry which I was fond of posting on Twitter, occasionally swapping poems on there with James May. Motorcycle and biker related poetry is now an established form and I thought it might be interesting to talk about how it's developed and how anyone can write poems, even you and I.
Potted history of motorcycle poetry
Poetry written by motorcyclists specifically about their bikes and lifestyle first appeared in the late 1960s in America, with the mixing of cultures from hippies to biker groups. Hunter S. Thompson is credited with writing early motorcycle poetry, his success brought the idea to a wide audience, popularising the literary movement focussing on biker lifestyle with the publication of 'Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs'. Motorcycle based poetry has gone on developing since then and is popular, with a wide selection of books available to even the most casual of searches.
Who wouldn't be moved to poetry by this rare pre production Honda CB750?
Poets in this genre often use pseudonyms, some of the most well known American ones being 'The Holy Ranger' Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum, and 'Joe Go' Jose Gouveia who produced a famous anthology 'Rubber Side Down' which I have reviewed previously on this tribe. There have also been a lot of women writing motorcycle poems, notably Diane Wakoski, who wrote a collection of poems known as 'The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems' dedicated to all men who had betrayed her.
Motorcycle poetry is now widely popular, with themed poetry days and even months held by different motorcycling organisations. Groups such as The Highway Poets Motorcycle Club have an international membership and the genre is a regular feature in motorcycle magazines and at motorcycle rallies.
Forms of motorcycle poetry
Motorcycle poetry has covered all forms of poems in its history. From fixed and free verse to 'Baiku' a form of Haiku.I particulary like the Haiku form as the rules help me a lot, I freely admit I'm not a very good poet and having the haiku rules to stick to helps me to produce something better than I otherwise would.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with it 'Haiku' is a traditional form of Japanese poetry. Haiku poems consist of 3 lines, the first and last lines of a Haiku have 5 syllables and the middle line has 7 syllables, the lines rarely rhyme, but it is allowable.
Here's an example by James May which will give you the idea.
Gleaming Honda tank,
Curvature distorts my face,
Not so the slipstream.
May's silver tanked Honda C200 which may well have inspired his poem
It's not bad is it? You don't have to worry about how 'good' your poems are, you just need to be moved or inspired to do it, practice does help.
Development of themes
As motorcycle poetry originated in America early forms tended to cover similar themes to the cowboy poetry, portraying a romantic view of an American lifestyle. Early American biker poetry often discussed loneliness or the camaraderie only found with other bikers, motorcycle maintenance, though not necessairly Zen, and other issues which were often found in communities on the edge of society.
More recent motorcycle poetry has broadened its appeal and is now written by people across the world, with both serious and more comedic poems now popular.
Just have a go
Have you ever had a go at motorcycle poetry? I've been writing it for six years now as any of you who follow me on Twitter or the early days of this tribe will know. Give it a try and don't worry about it too much. The words will come.
This is one of my haiku/baiku written a couple of years ago:-
'Honda shine reflects,
Eager faced rider dismayed
Carb and hoped furred up'
Help me Honda, I need inspiration
Some of the frustration that the owner of an older bike might face summed up in 17 syllables.
Would you like to have a go? I'd love to hear any that you want to share in the comments below, whatever form you chose to write them in, comedic or serious. Have you ever read any motorcycle poetry and have some you would recommend? Come on, let's see if there are any poets amongst you!