Finding poetry in urban cycling

Like a swimmer I turn my head for breath
As between the lanes I am passing through
To escape the fumes I move out of my depth
However my bike brings a new point of view.

The emotiveness of rhyming poetry and the challenges of urban cycling may not appear at first to go hand in hand. Yet connecting the two is exactly what Italian poet Alessandro Ricci is doing in his project Borracce di poesia. ‘Water bottles of poetry’ is inspired by the idea of a bicycle water bottle that contains poetry rather than liquid. And like a swig of much needed water on a bike ride, this poetry ‘refreshes the urban cyclist’s perspective of their daily cycle.’

Ricci is passionate about both poetry and pedaling, a love that has grown out of the joys of both modern city commuting, and the stories his grandfather recounted of the great cycling champions of the past. Currently, his collection consists of some 200 quatrains. True to traditional form, these complete poems are made up of just four lines, with 11 syllables in each. He says, “The poetical approach takes a light-hearted form to promote both the cyclist’s perspective of urban mobility and heighten the awareness of the problems that they encounter daily when getting from A-to-B. These difficulties include: encounters with other motorists, traffic jams, bike theft, road safety and the unpredictable nature of the weather.”

While I sail my bicycle on through a storm
My knuckles are seizing and crack in the cold
But I smile as the helmsman which keeps me warm
As the rudder, my handlebars, glow like gold.

“The poems came to my mind while riding my bicycle, let’s say in a spontaneous way: I used to invite my friends to a ride sending them SMS using rhymes, or shouting – using rhymes – to the car drivers not paying attention to cyclists. The rhymes were all “stored” in my mind, so one day I dismounted from my bike and sat to my desk: nowadays I’ve almost 200 quatrains in Italian.” These reflections link “the historical traditions of cycling to the modern role of today’s urban mobility.’

In the last six years, the project has toured a number of conferences and festivals around Italy. Public readings are particularly engaging; audience members select water bottles and read aloud the poems that are enclosed. Over 300 poems have also been printed on bicycle racks in Pescara, Italy. Since 2012, the project has also raised money to build wells in Kenya, as well supporting individuals’ endeavours, including a Spanish couple’s tour of the Mediterranean coast by tandem. During this year’s Velo-City, Borracce di poesia won a Cycling Visionary Award.

English language versions are helping further spread these rhyming word, with readings at the Viennese Radkult Festival in 2013. There are even plans to even transform Ricci’s passion into a job, by turning Borracce di poesia into a bicycle brand, printing poetry onto cycling gear and apparel.

One day on the motorway cars will be banned
A pathway of cyclists shoulder-to-shoulder
From junction to junction bicycles will span
Of every age from younger to older.

All images and poems copyright Alessandro Ricci.