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Biker Culture - "A Poetry in Motion"

Biker poetry grew out of the predominantly American lifestyle of the Biker

by Ujjwal Dey
7/9/2018


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Biker poetry is a movement of poetry that grew out of the predominantly American lifestyle of the Biker and Motorcycle clubs following World War II. Biker lifestyle is what refers to the changes in society through what was Biker Culture.

Famous Authors such as Hunter S. Thompson are credited with writing biker poetry, playing no small part in the genus by making biker culture well-known to average citizens with his Hells Angels novel. It introduced a literary movement that focused on the biker culture when he released the first novel about bikers for non-biker readers of books - bringing biker culture into mainstream media. Biker Magazines came much later.

Some say Biker Poetry came into mainstream publishing focus on a farm in Colorado in 1975, which was attended by an assortment of bikers and hippies and a young Hunter S. Thompson and Sky. Since then, biker poetry is a genre getting a revival while the beatnik poetry that shaped them are still etched in our memories.

Biker poetry often embraces form, and may include fixed verse, free verse, folk song, concrete poetry, poetry slam and even "Baiku", a form of Haiku.



Notable biker poets include Diane Wakoski, who authored a collection known as The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems. Writers such as Colorado T. Sky and K Peddlar Bridges work with experimental poetry, however the biker genre tends to work with form, especially rhyming verse.

Groups such as The Highway Poets Motorcycle Club have an international membership. The inspiration for HPMC was on a farm called Baldspot near Mullen, Colorado - with all the usual suspects combining hippies, locals, bikers were present. James T Sky later met up with beatnik legend Allen Ginsberg who said that the Highway Poets MC could be what Beat Poets were for his generation.

Only in 1990, The Highway Poets Motorcycle Club was formally officially founded and named at Cambridge, MA. Since 2002, they have grown in international membership widely.



The Biker Poem genre was a regular feature in many motorcycle magazines and motorcycle rallies through the 1970s.

Biker Poetry is similar to cowboy poetry in that it can reflect a romantic American lifestyle. Verse will often focus on the loneliness or camaraderie associated with motorcycling, the day-to-day affairs of maintenance on the motorcycle, personal problems within a family that lives a biker lifestyle as well as substance abuse and its relation to bikers.



Other popular themes include "the freedom of the road", outlaw clubs, interactions with cars and trucks (also referred to as 'cages'), biker values and practices, and the conflicts and tragedies associated with highway incidents.

Biker poets often use pseudonyms. These include "The Holy Ranger" (Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum), "Wild Bill, the Alaskan Biker Poet" (William B Rogers), "Ironhorse Writer" (Laurence P. Scerri), "Gypsypashn" (Betsy Lister), "Biker Jer" (Jerry Sawinski), “Renegade” (K. Randall Ball) and "Joe Go" (Jose Gouveia).

The use of pseudonyms is mentioned by qualified anthropologist Daniel Wolf in his book published by University of Toronto Press. His research bridged the gap between image and reality by becoming an insider. He suggests that - the image of the outlaw biker is widely recognized in North American society but the reality is only known to insiders.

Daniel R. Wolf teaches anthropology at the University of Prince Edward Island. His Biker pseudonym was “Coyote.” As a member of Rebels MC he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 20 fellow members at a parking lot to brawl with 40 members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, elite paratroop fighting force. Just to defend their social territory, which was a bar called Kingsway Motor Inn. Coyote was concerned his PhD dissertation would fail by being absent at University if the fight led to him being in a prison.

Daniel R. Wolf is now a psychological anthropologist who has worked at the University of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, among other gigs. He is the only anthropologist ever to choose an outlaw motorcycle club as the topic of his doctoral study. Coyote — the pseudonym given to him by his Rebels brothers was because he wore a coyote pelt over his helmet.

Wolf was brought up on the streets of a lower-class neighborhood. Instead of being shot down like his childhood best friend, he worked in meat-packing plants for thirteen hours a day and put himself through university. He also bought himself a British-made Norton motorcycle. He later switched to a 1955 Harley-Davidson Panhead and then a ’72 Electraglide.

While other PhD candidates itched to study Maori tribesmen, Wolf’s love of motorcycles and his life background drew him to the “Harley tribe.” His resulting dissertation was the first of its kind. The biker culture had never been ethnographically explored.

Wolf eventually turned it into a book, The Rebels, which reads like a cross between Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels and Lionel Tiger’s Men in Groups.



Despite being outnumbered 40 to 23, the Rebels prevailed over the Airborne that day. The paratroopers came with nunchaku, a steel bar attached to a chain, a blackjack, a baseball bat, and more. A few Rebels had chains and tire irons, but most were unarmed. One wielded an old motorcycle battery. But the Rebels attacked together, “with the viciousness of cornered animals,” in Wolf/Coyote’s words.

The Airborne, soldiers trained in unarmed combat, weaponry, and riot control, dispersed when they saw a number of their fellows being beaten. Said Wolf: “They had not yet endured and shared enough to cement those ties of comradeship that resulted in members presuming, and acting upon, a principle of self-sacrifice. The Airborne may have been the finest in discipline, but they had not yet learned to look out for each other under fire” — thus proving biker brotherhood is worthy of anthropological research and reading.

An interview with Daniel Wolf can be read here:
http://omnimagazine.com/join-outlaw-bike-club/

You can buy Daniel Wolf's book The Rebels: A Brotherhood of Outlaw Bikers published by University of Toronto Press at:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0802073638

Wild Bill mentioned earlier has a webpage with links to biker poetry well know to bikers at
http://wildbill.tripod.com/biker.html

Wild Bill's website is an education in Biker Culture with curated list of biker books, performance videos, culture news, blog, guest authors. His Biker Links page has a long list of biker groups, forums, magazines, parts & service, biker art, etc.

Wild Bill is also a former Co-Publisher and Editor of Midnight Sun Rider Magazine with his wife Terri.



Bikernet.com is mentioned in his list of magazines as - "Bandits Bikernet: Some of the bro's from Easyriders (but not the mag!).

Folks should also read the 2009 article on "The History of Biker Poetry" published on Bikernet.com itself - by well known Biker Poet "Renegade" whom you folks know as "Bandit".

The History of Biker Poetry
The Whole Sordid Tale In Rhythm by Panhead Josh with photos from Bob T.
http://www.bikernet.com/pages/The_History_of_Biker_Poetry.aspx

"The perfect man? A poet on a motorcycle. You know, the kind who lives on the edge, the free spirit. But he's also gotta have the soul of a poet and a brilliant mind. So, you know, good luck." ~ Lucinda Williams

Music also welcomed Biker Culture. Lucinda Williams is a critically acclaimed Country Music Singer and Songwriter. She has won three Grammy Awards and influenced many songwriters.



Bob Seger is also a wonderful songwriter who is adored for his "life on the road" songs such as "Turn The Page" with the words -

On a long and lonesome highway
East of Omaha
You can listen to the engine
Moanin' out his one note song

See here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin' star again
There I go
Turn the page

In 2012, MarySusan Williams- Migneault founded the organisation - "Road Scribes of America". The organization has a Charter and Mission to promote Biker Poetry but also foster creativity of any Biker member whether Scribe, Poet, Photographer, Minstrel, Musician, or Creative Artist of the literary or art community. Road Scribes of America is not associated to any outside agency, club, or organization. It is a subsidiary of Roadhousepress.

Their website: http://roadscribesofamericatm.com/

Though a serious poet, "Wild Bill" Rogers in his book "Bikers Got Culture! Poetry for the discerning biker!" takes readers into the humorous side of a biker lifestyle that is as unique to America as the "Cowboy" or "Harley-Davidson" and a culture that is largely misunderstood.

It will revive your memories of JJ Solari reciting poetry in the Easyriders Studio.



Rubber Side Down” - is a wonderful anthology of poetry, essays and photography about the biker community.

Contributors to "Rubber Side Down" book include motorcyclist Jose “JoeGo” Gouveia head of the “Highway Poets Motorcycle Club”, Allen Ginsberg, Thom Gunn, Diane Wakoski, and a host of writers from the motorcycle press, including Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum a biker culture historian with many speculating if he was named by Harley-Davidson company as their Poet Laureate or not, Susan Buck, and K. Peddlar Bridges. In addition, a special photo section has been provided by celebrated motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter.

"The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems" by Diane Wakoski describes biker life as "... just being so joyfully alive/ Just letting the blood take its own course/ In intact vessels/ In veins.../ - the motorcyclist riding along the highway/ Independent/ Alone".

Shirley Dent is communications director for the Institute of Ideas, and development editor of Culture Wars, the institute's reviews website. In her Guardian newspaper column she says, "There is precise science in the recklessness of both riding a bike and writing a poem. A good Biker Poet is taking life on, in all its mad, fast-paced complexity, and turning out something that is precise, clear, true."

She is referencing Hunter S Thompson who in his classic essay "The Song of the Sausage Creature" stated that, "But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity".



You can read the wild crazy essay "The Song of the Sausage Creature" here - it mentions the Ducati 900 and Vincent Black Shadow with his typical trademark Gonzo journalism.

http://www.latexnet.org/~csmith/sausage.html

"Vincent Black Shadow which would outrun an F-86 jet fighter was like a bullet that went straight; the Ducati is like the magic bullet in Dallas that went sideways and hit JFK and the Governor of Texas at the same time." - Hunter S. Thompson

Shirley Dent says, "Motorbike and Poem defy the physical and scorn utilitarian demands. SUVs and car manuals get you from A to B. As Frederick Seidel knows, the motorbike and poem take you out of yourself." (Frederick Seidel is a widely published Poet, winner of the Lamont Prize and the 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award.)

Fans of Poetry are inspired and adopting the Biker Culture and Biker Poetry. One fan from North Yorkshire, United Kingdom describes himself as:

"I'm husband, father, writer, published poet, motorcyclist, novice horse rider, limited chef and mediocre musician, one-time art curator and collector of bohemians. I'm a Palace fan in exile, Gulliver with one foot in the north and the other in the capital, an opinionated bastard and occasional drunk, an actor without a stage and a member of the audience, a rocket scientist and a fool. Where convention goes I'll generally walk the opposite path, preferring Outside, slipping under Milk Wood, hightailing it to Neverland on a Ducati with Wendy riding pillion following Peter pulling wheelies, there to live among the pirates and eat crocodile stew."

 
One American Biker took a popular Biker Poem published in Easyriders magazine published in the 1970s and sang it as a song with a guitar solo. You can watch it on YouTube here:


"Road Rash Blues" a Poem by Gypsy, Converted Into A Song
https://youtu.be/SheJMleKtug

Phil Cromer aka "Gypsy" is the author of "Whispers in the Wind" a compilation of his work such as this Biker Poem.

Robert M Pirsig enlisted in the United States Army at age 18 years in 1946 and was stationed in South Korea until 1948. He was an incredible student since childhood with an IQ of 170. He attended Banaras Hindu University in India, to study Eastern philosophy and culture.

In his philosophical book " Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values" (1974), he described the central character, thought to represent himself, as being far from a typical student. The book develops around Pirsig's exploration into the nature of "Quality".

The book in a first-person narrative based on a 17-day motorcycle trip he and his young son Chris took from Minneapolis to San Francisco, is an exploration of the underlying metaphysics of Western culture. This book is punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions, on topics including epistemology, ethical emotivism and the philosophy of science.

Pirsig represented the biker culture without the intent to do so and without realizing it. Because he was basically writing about feeling like an outsider who did not like the society's conformity and un-questioned acceptance of all things considered normal. His work is known as one of the best in American philosophy and it represents the fight for "Freedom" by the Bikers and their Biker Brotherhood.

Robert M. Pirsig states - "The study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself. Working on a motorcycle, working well, caring, is to become part of a process, to achieve an inner peace of mind. The motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon."



Ed Pliska AKA "Sorez the Scribe" - a veteran of Biker Poetry starts his poem titled "Man Of The Cloth" with the words that all men recognize as the eternal search for truth, meaning of life, purpose of existence -

He lived his life
With a deep seated need
To follow the Truth
Of what he believed

- and then Sorez ends this poem with the defining words -

A man standing tall
He captured the diamond
He was reaching for
With the Patch on his back
He was a Man Of The Cloth
You can read some good "Sorez the Scribe" Biker Poetry here:
http://roadscribesofamericatm.com/index.php/sorez/

The body and mind still come together today in motorcycling - whether it is to watch out for city roads with its many perils or a long empty stretch of U.S. Route 50, The Loneliest Road in America.

Give it some thought when you ride your motorcycle next time. Give it poetry. Give it hell. Stay on the saddle, ride on in all weather, be a man free of anything except the "Self".


--Ujjwal Dey
wayfarer@bikernet.com


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