UW News

March 8, 2007

Who knew? Ride in the Rain bikers are poets, too

UW News

Maybe it’s the long hours alone on the bike that provide the inspiration, or maybe it’s all that dreary rain. Whatever the cause, participants in the UW’s Ride in the Rain program have shown that they are poets, too.

And, no less, poets with a flair for the brevity and punch of haiku, the Japanese verse generally based on the pattern of five syllables for the first line, then seven for the second, and five again for the third.

Like this: Morning downpour ride / Fix first flat of the new year / Smooth roads now — onward.

Or this calmly philosophical verse: It is a circle / Pleasure, pain, gain and again / Ride hard, ride often.

Or this glimpse of roadway misadventure: Morning sky is blue / Black is ice upon the street / bicycle slides, body hurts.

But wait — what’s the connection, again, between winter bike commuting and haiku?

Elena Fox, public information officer for the Transportation Office, home of U-PASS, which sponsored Ride in the Rain, explained that the whole thing came from a wish to engage with Ride in the Rain program participants in a fun way.

“We started an online discussion board, but it didn’t take fire the way we had wanted. So we were trying to think of another way to engage people,” Fox said. “I thought about my own process, which is, whenever I’m swimming or raking or riding I do little rhymes or funny things in my head. And I thought, what about something like that?”

Fox said she remembers that a participant in the last year’s Ride in the Rain had suggested the possibility of writing haiku about the experience. So Fox opened up a Web page and extended the invitation, and the poetry started coming in.

“They started from the day the site went live,” she said. “And we set it up so that people can enter as many haikus as they want. She also sent out an email asking for members of Ride in the Rain teams to vote on the haikus. In all, 137 people voted over a total of 92 submitted poems.

Many were submitted anonymously, many not. Some authors submitted several poems, all of which can be read on the Web site. Some scan exactly, others more loosely. The friendly competition sparked some authors to submit multiple entries. Shane Squires, a physics graduate student and talented wordsmith, submitted nine poems.

“It’s sort of a hobby,” Squires said, who noted that he has taken a couple of Japanese literature classes along the way. “I’ve sort of written haiku on and off throughout college.

Here’s one of his efforts: Sound of the wind / on my back, rainbows / under my tires.

Fox said the winning haiku was an anonymous one, and maybe that’s best. The winner was: I hate being wet / but I have no choice because / my husband makes me.

Second prize, she said, ended up in a three-way tie.

There’s this, submitted by Jeffrey Miller: From all compass points / We turn toward campus. Each a / Mass transit of one.

And this one, by Squires: Our shared smile / when your bike passed mine / and the rain paused.

And last but not least, this verse by Gina Neff: Neither snow nor rain / Nor gloom of night (but ice, yes!) / stays me from my ride.

Fox said even some of the Ride in the Rain team names were funny. One was Giro de iTowelYa, another Mud, Sweat and Gears, and a team from KUOW, the UW’s public radio station, called themselves Radio Flyers.

The Ride in the Rain haikus are all available for reading at http://www.washington.edu/commuterservices/riderain/haiku.php

Ride in the Rain and its attendant poetry slam have ended, but Fox, ever on the lookout for something new to entertain, is already on to the next idea.

Like for how to celebrate the Walk-In challenge, which takes place throughout April.

“We’re going to do knock-knock jokes,” she said.