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March 20, 2006 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

The Year of the Bicycle

To pretty much steal the blurb from the back of this very nicely designed book: these poems were written or re-tuned during James Brown’s year as Writer in Residence at Victoria’s own International Institute of Modern Letters. The title alludes to his having biked to work every day of that year.

In this year of eco-friendly transportation, the poet/mountain cyclist naturally wrote about his sport of choice. This apparently narrow subject broadened into a vehicle (no pun intended) for poems about growing up, learning, relationships, and the frustrations of the workforce. This is standard poet fodder: they write about what they know as best they can. Brown knows about growing up in Palmerston North, going to university, riding his bike on a milk round, being a flatmate, being a father and a husband, being an employee. Statistically, you should probably know about at least four of these seven subjects, and therefore should be interested in reading this book because you can relate to it.

The enjoyable thing about The Year of the Bicycle is that it’s accessible without being boring. It dispels the myth that poetry is a special code that can’t be broken without your 6th form English teacher barking the coordinates to you. Yet, at the same time, if you tried to write it yourself you’d find that it wasn’t as easy as it looked. It might look like a random list, or like normal sentences, broken arbitrarily into short lines ­– and if thinking of it that way helps you read it, then I won’t argue. However, if you have a fair idea why the lines end where they do, or why the list is in that particular order, you’ll probably be particularly rewarded by this collection. Regardless of your experience as a poetry reader, you will have the pleasure of recognising, ‘isn’t that clever?’ after many of Brown’s poems.

If you are dubious, pop into Vic Books, find this one and have a browse. I’ve spent hours doing this without anyone insisting I buy something or leave, so I’m sure you can too.

There were poems in this collection that I found somewhat monotonous: there’s a long one about mountain biking, that personally I found it less successful than the briefer, punchier poems in sections one and two of the book. In fact, I found the majority of this book thoroughly satisfying. If you’re a reader of Sport, Landfall, or other New Zealand writing journals, you will no doubt have sampled some of this collection already. If not, then get hold of a copy and find out what I’m talking about.

James Brown
VUP, $24.95


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