Monday, December 15, 2014

Poetry About Automobile and Sexuality

The Poetic Response to the Automobile

            The automobile evoked emotional responses, both at work and in leisure. Poetry is most significant in understanding a culture at any moment in time, since poets aim at expressing the latent meanings of life. In the era before WWII what poetry was written about automobiles, rarely, if ever, contained verse about human relationships, let alone sexual themes or glimpses. Instead, poetry was largely bifurcated into two subsets, either celebrating the freedom and the physical and psychological exhilaration of the ride, or criticizing changes in the human condition that had resulted in a loss of peace and harmony.39 Exceptions to these two views were few and far between, particularly with regards to human relationships and sex.40 One such exception was e.e. cummings “XIX,” written in 1926, the last year of the Model T production run.
she being Brand
new; and you
know consequently a
little stiff i was
careful of her and (having

thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch(and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell)next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly; bare,ly nudg. ing(my
lev-er Right-
oh and her grears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high lile
greasedlightning)just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give
her the juice, good

was the first ride and believe i we was
happy to see how nice she acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens i slammed on

brakes Bothatonce and

brought allof her tremB
to a: dead
            A second notable exception was Karl Shapiro’s poem “Buick,” written at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II. Shapiro, later poet laureate and faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, had written this as a love poem to the car itself, a vehicle he had seen during the time he was in the army.

As a sloop with a sweep of immaculate wing on her delicate spine
And a keel as steel as a root that holds in the sea as she leans,
Leaning and laughing, my warm-hearted beauty, you ride, you ride,
You tack on the curves with parabola speed and a kiss of goodbye,
Like a thoroughbred sloop, my new high-spirited spirit, my kiss.

As my foot suggests that you leap in the air with your hips of a girl,
My finger that praises your wheel and announces your voices of song,
Flouncing your skirts, you blueness of joy, you flirt of politeness,
You leap, you intelligence, essence of wheelness with silvery nose,
And your platinum clocks of excitement stir like the hairs of a fern.

But how alien you are from the blooming belts of your birth and the smoke
Where you turned on the stinging lathes of Detroit and Lansing at night
And shrieked at the torch in your secret parts and amorous tests,
But now with your eyes that enter the future of roads you forget;
You are all instinct with your phosphorous glow and your streaking hair.

And now when we stop it is not as the bird from the shell that I leave
Or the leathery pilot who steps from his bird with a sneer of delight,
And not as the ignorant beast do you squat and watch me depart,
But with exquisite breathing you smile, with satisfaction of love,
And I touch you again as you tick in the silence and settle in sleep.42

            The emotion and intensity, the feeling between human beings and automobiles, would not quite reach the same heights in American poetry until the late 1970s and beyond, when this time it was women poets who would share more latent feelings with their readers.

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