A Review of Bikeman, by Thomas Flynn

I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical when I received a copy of Thomas Flynn’s Bikeman to review. An epic poem? About 9/11? The events of that day can certainly be considered epic by any standard, but poetry that seeks to record such an event seems almost…outdated. I opened the book and flipped around at random, glancing at the page in front of me. This is what I read:

They topple out of shattered windows.
They soar: two or three at once or four.
They fall straight as straws.
They do not tumble like a child’s jacks
but fly straight. The frantic arm waving is over.
They fall resigned.

The impact of those verses hit me like a brick wall, and stayed in my mind until later that night when I sat down to read the rest of the book. I was impressed.

The beauty of poetry lies in its ability to condense emotion and experience into small and powerful packets of verse. There are no spare words – each line is crafted with careful accuracy, cutting with a surgeon’s precision. The result has something like the impact of visual art – immediate and stunning. Flynn seems to understand that principle, and with his choice of form, has distilled the events of 9/11 into a raw, almost visceral experience.

To most of us, that September morning was a series of images, horrifyingly surreal, of tragedy and terror. We watched in unbelief as people jumped to their deaths, and two iconic buildings crashed to the ground as so much rubble. Instead of writing a book that rehashes the facts of that day, Flynn instead revisits the emotions – the anger, helplessness and grief that we felt as a nation.

Thomas Flynn is by trade a journalist, and this book makes a point of highlighting that fact. Dan Rather wrote the foreword. His colleagues Diane Sawyer, Harry Smith, and Meredith Vieira, read it and wrote blurbs for the jacket. What this book gives us, however, is not cold, hard journalistic perspective. Instead, what it offers is much, much more. Epic indeed.

19 June 2008


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