Poetry wheels are set in motion

Poet Char March
Poet Char March
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The organisers of next month’s Otley Word Feast have published a book of cycling poetry. Yvette Huddleston spoke to one of the festival team.

The organisers of next month’s Otley Word Feast – a festival celebrating the written and spoken word – have taken the phrase “poetry in motion” literally with their publication of Spokes, a cycling themed anthology of verse.

And it is very apt. Otley is both a famously popular place with cyclists – the town is home to the Ron Kitching Cycling Memorabilia Library, the Otley Cycle Races and the Otley Cycle Festival – and renowned for its poets.

“When we heard that the Tour de France Grand Départ would be coming to Yorkshire and passing through Otley, we thought we would like to do something on the back of the Word Feast,” says Sandra Burnett, one of the festival’s founders. “So we put out a call to our poetry friends for bicycle poems and contributions came in from far and wide as the word spread.” The festival team then contacted a number of published poets who volunteered to work on an anonymous selection process and soon the book was underway.

“We are so grateful to everybody who has been part of it,” says Burnett. “We got in touch with Carol Ann Duffy who allowed us to use one of her poems. And then we contacted Ian McMillan who wrote a lovely introduction for us.” The Bard of Barnsley praises the ‘marriage of words and wheels, stanzas and spokes...’ and adds ‘I reckon Spokes will be the start of a great revival and expansion of cycling poetry.’

The book contains 45 poems, all on a cycling theme including the Poet Laureate’s Lightning Star, a lovely reminiscence of a childhood pretence in which her bicycle becomes her ‘trusty steed’ (‘I feel my horse’s handlebars against my knees/I hear my horse’s neighing in my head’). Other poems in the anthology feature thoughts on the camaraderie, elation and hardship of cycling, the effect of the elements and the physical exertion required.

Some are meditative, some uplifting and others are humorous such as the delicious Cycling with Gordon Ramsay which plays around with the chef’s reputation for foul-mouthed straight talking (‘Nightmare/Every ten yards/some reason to swear/the air was blue with it’) and ends with the punch-line ‘But he made the best sandwiches’.

The Lesson touchingly recalls a cycling lesson given to a child (‘I hold on longer than I should and have to ignore/my urge to sprint, catch up’) while Lycra-clad Loony describes a bad-tempered encounter on a zebra crossing between a cyclist and an unsympathetic pedestrian.

The Oxygen of Words and Wheels references some significant literary Yorkshire locations (‘I creak up to Heptonstall where Sylvia lies in the fierce flames of her talent/... And I freewheel.../back to the Brontë moors to listen for Heathcliff’) and 
Le Tour d’Otley is written entirely in Franglais (‘Sithee lads, je pense that nous/Should get oursens out on la rue’). The book is available to buy on the festival website and at Chevin Cycles, Just Books and Browse Time in Otley. Any profits from the sale of the book will go towards Word Feast.

The festival has grown this year with 25 events – most of which are free and many for children and young people – including workshops such as Committing the Perfect Murder with crime writer Alison Taft, getting into character with novelist Martyn Bedford and Sonnets and Scones with poet James Nash. Burnett says that there are hopes to expand the festival further in the future.

“We aim to involve the whole community, to be accessible, appeal to all ages and promote local talent,” says Burnett. “We would like to get more people involved and see the festival grow.”

Otley Word Feast, March 28-30. Tickets from www.otleywordfeast.org.uk, where you can also buy a copy of Spokes, or www.otleycourthouse.org.uk