Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Biker Poet Jose Gouveia: Drive your motorcycle across Mt. Rushmore, and leave a skid mark mustache on George Washington’s face.

Biker Poet Jose Gouveia: Drive your motorcycle across Mt. Rushmore, and leave a skid mark mustache on George Washington’s face.

Jose “Jo Go” Gouveia, like more than a few Somerville residents is a first generation Portuguese-American. He resides on Cape Cod and has been published in six countries and four continents. He is a member of the Highway Poets Motorcycle Club and founder of the Biker Poets & Writers Association. He recently edited a biker’s poetry anthology: “Rubber Side Down.” Poet Martin Espada says of his work: “Jose Gouveia’s poetry rolls and roars into our collective imagination.” I spoke with Gouveia on my Somerville Community Access TV Show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You dedicated the anthology to Allen Ginsberg and Hunter S. Thompson. Why?

Jose Gouveia: Colorado T. Sky who was part of the Boston poetry scene back in the 80’s, started the Highway Poet’s Motorcycle Club in the 1970’s. He was sitting with about six or seven poets in a place called Bald Spot, Colorado. It was a hippie commune. They were biking through one day and ran into a bunch of hippies and among them was Hunter S. Thompson. Sky announced his idea for publishing Bikers and Thompson said: “I’m all for that idea.” So they proceeded to have a poetry slam between the hippies and the bikers. The bikers were doing nasty off- the- wall stuff, while the hippies were doing the peace and love thing. So it really touched Sky that Hunter S. Thompson was there and gave him his nod of approval. Then, a number of years later he was doing a radio show with Allen Ginsberg in the Boston area, and Ginsberg said that the bikers could be the next Beat Generation. Sky was taken aback by this comment. He looked down at his coffee and Ginsberg was gone. Sky looked outside, in the men's room, and wondered where Ginsberg went. It was like Ginsberg gave his blessing and vanished into thin air.

DH: You said that the acclaimed poet Martin Espada encouraged you to continue when you were about to give up.

JG: We were trying to get submissions, write grants, nobody wanted to give money to bikers, much less poets. Espada kept encouraging me. He said this is an important book--nothing like this has ever been done. I went to a party at Marge Piercy's (poet and founder of Leap Frog Press) and she encouraged me as well.

She and her husband Ira gave me the name of a friend of theirs in California who owns a small press and also happens to be a biker. And sure enough he published us.

DH: What are the defining characteristics of biker poetry?

JG: One of the other editors, and a good friend, Peddler Bridges got into an argument with me about this all the time. I don't see it as a genre I see it as a movement. Peddler sees it as a genre. If you look at the book there is everything from free verse to formal poetry.

The thing that biker poets share in common isn't so much our writing, or how we write, but it is our passion for the open road and motorcycles. As long as the poem is in some way about motorcycles you are in. There is really no requirement about how you have to write. Half the book is meant to be performance poetry, and it’s meant to be written. In the tradition of Whitman the poetry is celebratory. Celebrating the road, celebrating the freedom.

DH: Allen Ginsberg said" The Highway Poets could be for their generation what Beat Poets were for ours." Has this panned out?

JG: Not yet. When I look at what they were doing--cross country road trips--well, there are a few bikers doing that, but we are not all doing it. The Beats: Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Cassidy were doing it together as a group. Today poets are on the Internet. 60% to 70% of the poets I have met are from the Internet.

DH: In her poem "The Desert Motorcyclist" Diane Wakoski writes: “ Desert motorcyclist:/that is me/ and it is the man/never the machine/who betrays me."

Is biker poetry a response to the constraints of society and its false promises?

JG: Very much so. That's the thing we write about in one way or the other.
DH: How did you solicit poetry?

JG: I sent out emails to all the newspapers that I could think of that were based in vibrant art scenes. I also contact people who I met online, whose work I liked. One of the problems I had was that many of the poems I got were basically the same poem. They all could have been titled: "The Wind In My Hair." That's cliché...Come on! Drive your motorcycle across Mt. Rushmore and leave your skid marks across George Washington's upper lip, while cursing him out for being a Federalist!

DH: So you fly in the face of conventional notions of the biker as an illiterate, violent, Hell's Angels type of guy?

JG: Colorado T. Sky. is a lifelong biker and looks like one. He is a gentle guy, a professor, one of the best poets I met. He is quite the humanist actually. And I think you will find that throughout the book.

1 comment:

  1. For the record, the Highway Poets Motorcycle Club was not founded in 1970. And also, there was a submissions editor for Rubber Side Down...let's see... what was his name? Hmm... I think it is in the book, check it out. One last thought before I sign off ... bikerpoetry is not about 'images' or changing images of what a biker is ... biker poetry is about capturing the road, the ride, the soul of the biker (s) .. taking the reader down the road with you, whether that road is in the city of Cambridge or the outback of Australia. Biker poetry not a rant against the machine it is the collective heart beat of the wind, the bike, the biker, a brotherhood not defined by gender, politics, or geography, but by the spirit of freedom that must go on down the road. Now a biker might write poetry, and it might be mighty fine poetry at that; it might be a political scream across the universe, or it might be about Hamlet - but biker poetry is not defined as a poem a biker writes.. biker poetry is a genre in its own right, defined by the cadence, the passion, the blood-sweat and tears -- an essence that can't be learned, only experienced.