A poem to mark Mental Health Awareness Week

Geoffrey Brock

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked poet, translator, and Wolfson Visiting Fellow, Geoffrey Brock, to select a poem and give a brief reflection on the work. Geoffrey selected 'The Rider' by Palestinian-American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye.

Geoffrey Brock

The Rider
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Rider" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

"Simplicity and grace"

“When I read "The Rider,” says Geoffrey, "I think of a line from another great bicycle poem, by Michael Donaghy: "The machinery of grace is always simple." The machinery of this poem is indeed wonderfully simple: a brief, plain-spoken anecdote about the efforts of two people to leave their (lightly personified) loneliness behind, followed by a final, resonant image in which loneliness dissolves in something we might call grace.

"Never a word — and this is part of the poem’s simplicity and its grace — about what made the poet pedal so hard down San Antonio’s King William Street at night in the first place. On a personal note, as both a cyclist whose mental health improves with riding and a translator, I'm inordinately fond of the moment when the poet wonders, essentially, whether deliverance "translates to bicycles.”

You can read more about Naomi Shihab Nye – and buy collections including Fuel – on the BOA Editions Ltd website.

You can find out more about Geoffrey Brock on his website, and read his poems on the Poetry Foundation website

To get involved with the University’s wide-ranging programme of talks and activities marking Mental Health Awareness Week, visit their dedicated webpage.