April 17, 2009


RUBBER SIDE DOWN The Biker Poet Anthology
edited by José Gouveia
Archer Books

Review by Stephan Delbos

Rumbling straight from the back roads of literature comes this energetic collection of biker poetry, edited by Massachusetts’ poet José “JoeGo” Gouveia. Featuring photos by Michael Lichter, biographical essays and retrospectives, and seventy-three poems from forty-three poets from North America, the Netherlands, China, Russia, and South Africa, RUBBER SIDE DOWN is both all-inclusive and exclusive; the poets are born of diverse backgrounds, from highwaymen to professors, but all are passionately united by their love of leather, motorcycles, and the open road.

Though the poems vary in form, featuring loose free verse, rhyming ballads, and even “Baiku,” a clever twist on traditional haiku, the constant is a desire to relate a story, be it a memory, a biker legend, or a moment of intense perception. The latter are presented most clearly in the aforementioned Baiku, which vary from the comic (Laconia run / to the strip to see the show / bikes and boobs abound!) to the meditative (steel rubber and chrome / roaring through concrete jungles / thunder storms roll in). These Baiku by José Gouveia show just two of the multiple variations on the theme of Biker poetry.

It is clear that these poets are united in their subject matter, just as it is clear that they have little or no desire to be accepted by the academy. But this anthology represents not just a ramshackle collection of poems by men and women on motorcycles. Rather, this anthology, the first of its kind, is both a roadmap and a road: an historical record of Biker Poetry and a path toward a more organized and represented movement.

According to essays in the anthology, the Biker Poetry movement has its roots in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the Hell’s Angels reached their apex of notoriety. At this time, cultural representatives such as Allen Ginsberg and Hunter S. Thompson, to whom the anthology is dedicated, produced seminal texts on bikers and biker poets. Since then, the movement has literally cruised the great American highways, coming to fruition at various times in magazines and readings. Not until Rubber Side Down, however, has the movement had such inclusive and organized representation. There can be little doubt that the Biker Poetry movement will continue to gather strength and that this anthology will serve as a touchstone for future publishers.

Though the themes and style of biker poetry may not be for everyone, these poets are undeniably active, even if until now their activity has mostly been within their own circles. RUBBER SIDE DOWN is an infectious collection of passionate, energetic poems, a must-read for anyone who rides and writes, or anyone who wants to keep abreast of burgeoning underground movements in American poetry.

It is wise to remember the words of the late Thom Gunn, whose “On the Move ‘Man You Gotta Go’” is the first poem in the anthology: “One is always nearer by not keeping still.”



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