Bobi celebrates the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this debut collection of poetry.
Constructed in 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the oldest permanent motor racing track in the world, and its marquee race, the Indianapolis 500, is hailed by some as “the Greatest Race on Earth.” Bobi gives the race and racetrack the Homeric treatment with this volume of verse that chronicles the lore, personalities, records, and automobiles of the storied institution. After a prose-heavy introductory section that explains the author’s fascination with auto racing and gives some background on the Speedway, Bobi offers themed poetry sections on such topics as the psychology of a race car driver, the relationship between man and automobile, the experience of being at the Speedway during the race-heavy month of May, and the women of the auto racing world. The vast majority of the book, however, is taken up by a section titled “Start Your Engines,” which features poems about every Indy 500 race (and many others as well), held at the racetrack from 1909 to ’95. The final section offers some miscellaneous poems, notes on other “poets of auto racing,” and reference citations. Most of Bobi’s poems are written in rhyming couplets, including “Father and Son,” which describes one of racing’s most famous families: “Two Andrettis talking away, / It was father and son on this Fifth day of May; / A gesture from Jeff, Mario gave a nod, / Would their chat get the problem resolved?” Throughout, the author provides some engaging uses of slant rhyme. However, the poems show no sense of meter, which lends a clunky, unfinished quality to the work. Much of it is narrative, but even so, there’s a lack of emotional depth to the verses that may leave the reader feeling more bored than invigorated. The prospect of reading 500 pages of poems about car race after car race may sound monotonous, and it is. And although the book is remarkable as a peculiar, exhaustive love letter to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s difficult to imagine even die-hard racing fans reading the entire book.
A tome of car racing poems, loaded with trivia but short on lyricism.
A collection of poetry focuses on everyday beauty and wonder.
Over the course of 50 poems with straightforward titles, retired high school English teacher Hathwell (Between Dog and Wolf, 2017, etc.) explores the world around him. Nature is a touchstone of his poetry. In “Poplar,” he expertly describes the titular tree “catching a breeze, flutter sage and silver wings” while in “Sunflower,” he lingers on the “wide blank face” of the “saddest flower.” The author also showcases culture in his poems. “Fred’s Girl” is a propulsive ode to the Fred Astaire–Paulette Goddard duet in the film Second Chorus, and “Sunday at the Symphony” captures the ethereal experience of live classical music. But the poems aren’t limited to the author’s immediate surroundings. A visit to the Spanish Steps, where Keats died in 1821, is the subject of “Readiness Is Everything,” which encourages readers to “imagine the world without you.” Hathwell plays with humor in “Dust Is Winning,” about the futile fight to keep things clean, and shows his cynical side in “Red Dress,” which describes the “ruby radiance” of an ensemble depicted in advertising. The act of writing is another recurring theme in this collection. “Song” depicts a successful writing day, in which “I rise from my desk, / Majestic, and I dance,” while “Sure Thing” warns readers “that language is prepared to lie / When you ask it to.” Quiet moments are also rich material for the poet. Throughout, he matches his message to the pacing of the poem, creating an immersive experience for readers. In “Finding Myself in the Morning,” readers sink into Hathwell’s serene, solitary scene where he can finally “not wonder / who is speaking, or what comes next.” In “Ten O’Clock,” the audience can sense the descent into a “deep, forgiving sleep.” The one flaw of this collection is its breadth. Because everything from Astaire to flora is fair game, the individual poems don’t always flow from one to the next, and transitions can be jarring.
Like the demigod from which it takes its name, Defining Atlas is a durable, uplifting volume.
A strong current of self-affirmation, self-love, and self-confidence runs through this work, and readers will come away feeling their spirits improved. We feel some of this current in the clever “Limited”; Michaels takes the titular subject and turns it on its head: “I’m new, but I’m old / Not limited beyond my means and methods / But limited because I’m special / Special beyond the heavens and everything that surrounds me / That I’m among…limited.” Elsewhere in “From the ashes…I am,” he sings a hard-won song of renewal and rebirth: “I am victory in its rawest form / I am hope that never conform / I am the will, the drive, and the truth / I am like everyone, like you.” But Michaels does not hoard specialness or victory for himself; he wants it for his reader too, and in “Wake Up!” he urges us on toward a bright future: “There’s something good here for you / Your purpose can never be defined by just one blue / Your destiny awaits you.” Underpinning Michaels’ stirring message is a strong faith in God, whose presence infuses many of the poems here: “But I always thank God for the latter / For the strength and will it takes / Shines so bright / Shines so right.” Michaels often adopts a loose scheme of rhyming couplets, and this decision leads to one of the book’s few weaknesses. Too often, the poet picks awkward or odd pairings; e.g., “And if I could become a perfect saint / I would make believers out of the ones who say they ain’t” and the “you/blue” couplet mentioned above. But such missteps are infrequent, and they don’t dim the warm light that emanates from Michaels’ fine volume.