"Songs of Freedom"
by Robert Lowery

John Hirschfield wrote in the American Poetry Review, "One of the laws of poetry seems to be that there can be no good poem of unalloyed happiness, that good poems always pull in two directions." George Szurtes said it more succinctly, "There is always a little cold wind in a good poem,"

Rubber Side Down, subtitled "The Biker Poet Anthology," edited by Jose Gouveia (Anchor Books, 2008), has much of that cold wind, poems that resist easy understanding, poems that surprise the reader a little bit, and poems that pull in more than one direction.

Many of the poets are members of the Highway Poets Motor Cycle Club (HPMCC), founded by Colorado T. Sky. The Highway Club came of age in 1990 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it was "blessed" by none other than Allan Ginsburg, who wrote, "The Highway Poets could be, for their generation, what the Beat Poets were ours." Among their several achievements, the Highway Poets have officially dubbed the month of August as Biker Poetry Month, during which they hold public readings. The club comprises poets from around the world, all of them riders, all of them bound by the road warrior spirit. Out of 300 submitted poems, the editors selected 74 poems by 45 writers for this volume.

The title, as every rider knows, means simply "ride safe." Martin Jack Rosenblum, perhaps the finest technically proficient poet in this book, writes in a foreword, "the writers in this collection manage to witness experience on a motorcycle not only from the saddle, but once the ride is done by daybreak or begun as night falls on roads going every place but home." He continues, "Motorcycles are not supposed to stay balanced unless there is movement." Titles of poems in this collection reflect that movement. Thom Gunn's "On the Move, Man, You Gotta Go": Paula Doherty's "Sidecar Riding"; Beth Groundwater's "Ride the Wind"; Preston Hood's "Biking Away from Dooniver"; and Eddie Pliska's "Life's Highway" attest to the belief that there is no balance without motion, no life without stirrings. Without movement, the motorcycle falls, without movement, the poetry freezes.

These poems are not the smooth, happy-ending verses that appear in journals and magazines. The writing reflects the rough and ready image of the biker, her personal hardships, often a road-weary soul that finds solace in the highway. Two examples will have to suffice for all of them. Susan Howard typifies many, writing:

...The tires revolving down the asphalt
keep saying it's okay
leaving behind the mess,
the pain, the thoughts
that travel with me as I walk
haunted by small voices
in the rooms of that house
weighing me down,
always overwhelmed,

The next verse gives her relief:

But the road is free of that,
It is the steady air against the skin
whipping hair and clothes
and flawed thinking from my mind....

Who among us hasn't thought like Susan Buck's "Rain Poem"?

...Wet-weather driving skills, they can't even feign
Ferchrissakes, you moron, get out of my lane!
(Well, usually that'd come out way more profane)
You think that my wits are a little unchained?
Declare me insane to traverse wet terrain?
To reach home, thirty more miles remain.

There's more of this, poets singing a song of freedom, of life's joys and heartaches, but always about the ride, the journey, pushing onward as the mysteries deepen.

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