I sit across from Professor Robert Price in his tiny office in CCT as he twists a black ballpoint pen between his fingers. I ask him when he started writing poetry. “A long time ago… When I was a kid, and in high school. There was a girl I liked. She didn’t like [my poetry] but I kept doing it anyway.”
Price, a professional writing professor at UTM, has just published a book of poetry entitled Tandem Bicycle.
“I’m not a poet,” Price says. “I don’t want to be called a poet.” So what is he, then? “I’m a writer.” Price says he isn’t afraid of publication, per se, but he does think about how others will interpret the work. “Is this a mistake? Am I saying what I think I’m saying?” he asks.
I leave Price’s office armed with my very own copy of Tandem Bicycle. Price’s writing doesn’t seem at all interested in the romanticisms of poetry. The subject matter is mostly about the everyday comings and goings of the world. Nothing is abstract. I ask Price if there are recurring themes in his writing. “Probably,” he replies. “You’ll have to read it and tell me.”
The most important theme, I think, is quite simply human experience. Life, in the grand scheme of things, is a nanosecond consisting of millions of tiny details, moments, and events. It’s gone almost before you realize it was there. The mission of Tandem Bicycle is to catch all those details and hold them still.
The content of the poems varies: some are tiny, having to do with oranges, or a woman leaving her clothing around the house. On the surface, it’s petty. Below that surface, it’s refreshing to see things from the detail-oriented perspective of someone else. Price says that poetry is “more emotional than intellectual”, but that form is still important. He argues that a writer can word-vomit as much as they want as a form of emotional release, but that a poem ultimately has to have some kind of rhythm and musicality.
This respect for structure can be seen throughout Price’s work. Although I would describe the form as free verse, the work is also inherently dedicated to form. There are subtle rhymes, many of them internal or imperfect, as well as an obvious dedication to music and flow in the lines themselves. I can get very irritated by deliberate form in poetry—I find it both hard to read and almost impossible to write. Some people would probably just call me lazy, but that’s not my point. My point is that there are times when it works extremely well. I think, like all things, form in moderation is perfectly acceptable. That is the balance that is struck in Tandem Bicycle.
Price says that ultimately, poetry is about communication. “You can’t control how other people will read your work,” he says, acknowledging that sometimes the author’s intention when writing a poem will “[miss] the ear” or the reader entirely. I don’t know if I’m getting everything out of Tandem Bicycle that Price intended for me to get.
My taste generally leans towards short poems as opposed to longer ones. But Price, in his title poem “Tandem Bicycle”, completely seduces me. It takes the enormous idea of a life journey and manages to break it down into bite-sized images and moments. It is the adding up of small parts that allows for the whole to be sustained. I have trouble shaking the lines from my head: “We could talk about tomorrow or say nothing, / lie in the sun of each other’s arms / for a year of warmth and paradise, / then travel home and shower until the water’s cold / and sleep together on wrinkled sheets.”
Price says his poetry is “usually pretty bad”, but frankly I’m not convinced. The words on the page are simple, but the ideas behind them are not.