Bicycle Spring

Let’s celebrate our arrived spring with this LYL Band performance of another Kevin FitzPatrick poem. Here’s a link to the full text of Kevin’s poem that we used — a link which also serves as a reminder that Garrison Keillor’s old Writer’s Almanac program used this poem once too.

Green vs Snow - photo by Heidi Randen

Not a satellite image of Antarctica, but a representation of how ice is fading and green emerging in Minnesota.

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Like most all of Kevin’s poems this one yields a straightforward meaning to many readers or listeners without need of study or re-reading. As I mentioned last time, that was one of Kevin’s aims. You may also notice the care he takes with the word-music in this piece. In our little poet’s group, Kevin’s suggestions would often be metrical improvements, and isn’t the sound of this poem’s opening line: “Windy, sunny, and Sunday” a fine springboard into this spring poem!

If one expects, requires, or prefers a more allusive and elusive poetry, you could shrug at this poem on the page. The poem’s overall metaphor — that learning to ride a bicycle in childhood is representative of a parent and child’s task of independence and departure — is likely apparent before you complete the poem. Myself? I found the poem charming. I can come to like a poem that doesn’t charm me at first — but how many poems survive to be understood when we initially stand coldly next to them? Oh, some poems taunt you with mystery. Some ask you to be impressed with verbal richness. Some present unknown worlds you may choose to explore. “Bicycle Spring”  seems simple. So, is it less good, or good only for lesser pleasures and less respect?

I’ve been writing, reading, and performing poetry for decades. I suppose I should have a valuable opinion on that matter. Sorry to disappoint, but I do not. Readers often tell me that my own poems and lyrics are too obscure and mannered. I personally prize originality in outlook and images highly, even at the risk of asking my readers/listeners to drop expectations and habitual/familiar ways of understanding a piece. Is that the best way, or do I even execute that way very well?

Way back in the 20th century I was taking a seminar class with poet Michael Dennis Browne, and in talking to the group he suggested that most of us students were writing poems that were more obscure than the ones he was writing. He asked, or at least strongly implied, that we should ask if that obscurity was necessary. I now ask you — as I continue to ask myself — to ask that. One thing should be key to your analysis: obscurity may be a way to cover up bad writing, insufficient intention, and fear — yes fear — of being understood.

Kevin FitzPatrick’s poetry was one poet’s answer to those questions. He truly wanted to speak to a broad audience, and yet at his death had achieved only a small (if appreciative) one. Dave and I are trying to enlarge that audience a little bit with this series,* as well as to memorialize our feelings after the death of our colleague.

Before I leave you with Dave Moore’s performance of Kevin FitzPatrick’s poem “Bicycle Spring,”  let me point out that there are often little figures on the horizon or in the background that can add depth to the first hearing or reading of one of Kevin’s poems. In our first example this month “Blackberries,”  I should have given you a link to the Seamus Heaney poem “Blackberry Picking”  that serves as the distant core of FitzPatrick’s poem.  FitzPatrick’s “Blackberries”  is homey, humorous, even practical. Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking”  is fatalistic, mildly tragic, haunted by waste. Kevin admired one poem, wrote another, and says so in “Blackberries.”   To know the tragic and to choose the comic is a complex choice isn’t it? And in “Bicycle Spring”  the background is there too, those concluding “blocks where he/has forbidden you to walk.” The father’s job is in part to help himself disappear.

The graphical player to hear the LYL Band’s performance of FitzPatrick’s “Bicycle Spring”  is below for many. If you don’t see that, here’s a highlighted hyperlink to hear it too.

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*Kevin’s poetry collections were published by Midwest Villages & Voices, and are not available through easily linked online booksellers or AFAIK, even directly from the publisher. “Bicycle Spring”  is in his 1987 collection Down on the Corner  which is ISBN 978-0935697025 and this information may help you get a copy via your library or local bookseller.

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