Art and the Zen of Motorcycle Poetry, a review
In Just Passing Through (Paycock Press, paper) M. Scott Douglass has elevated the two-stroke engine to the sublime. Here we do not need to worry about maintenance, for the poet’s sure hands guide us through that which is actually important, the trip itself, not the internal workings of the machine, “…unsure of his next destination, unsure/where this road might end, but certain/he’ll go anyway. He always does,/if only to see what’s over the next hill.”
Here is the conundrum of the male of the species laid out as well, the ache for the other through an always-distanced lens, the lure of the new experience versus the familial warmth of the familiar. Each curve in the road, each crest of a hill, and each new diner or truck stop hiatus in the author’s journey towards a more heightened plane of enlightenment, brings new discoveries and observations. In fact, each petty aggravation is seen in the larger perspective as a joy of sorts, a barely perceptible reaffirmation of the human values and frailties of himself and of those whom he observes, who are, by extension, the rest of humanity as well.
This is not to suggest that the narrative voice of the author is in any way some kind of “Christ-on-a-Harley,” for he is far more an active participant in those human foibles even as he observes his own engagement in them.
Here are the large-scale portraits of us, the vast majority of the world’s automobile-bound participants – some drivers, most passengers – as we tool along life’s random highways, intent on our locally focused itineraries, commuting, shopping, soccer-momming-and-dadding, and so forth. Those meaningless things that have such seemingly great import in our lives, yet which confine and restrict and, in some minor way, diminish them. He even catches us In the mirror of his work, occasionally, looking out of the corner of our eyes at the bearded biker across the room, wondering what it would be like to be as free as he appears to be, and wondering if he – the biker – gives an ounce of consideration to those with whom he shares the world, and the road, or if he is just some noise-and-wind addicted soul intent on thumbing his nose at the world.
Yet despite, or perhaps because of, the subjects of these poems, it always, the author seems to reassure us, comes back to the language, the poetry, reaffirming that it is the trip that is the thing of value, far more than the fact of our mere arrival at our destination.
As with the road itself, especially one less traveled, this collection of poetry is one where surprises wait around each bend or rise in the road. Just Passing Through is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and well worth your reading. It does what Davey Marlin-Jones once said good work should do, which is to cost the reader more than the mere price of the book.