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My Three Wheeler: A Critique

by on 5 June 2020

Under Street Light Loneliness, Blue Tricycle Emptiness

my three wheeler is blue with some yellow too

by Angus Strachan

critique by Andrew Lawston

Donald Campbell’s Bluebird CN7 is on display at Beaulieu Motor Museum in the New Forest.  That car, which once broke the land speed record, has been a stationary museum exhibit for decades.  Its sleek blue curves bend light around it, suggesting the incredible speeds for which it was designed, even as it sits immobile behind a steel rail.  Meanwhile, a plaque sits alongside the spectacular machine and reveals the tragic fate of its famous driver.  Even a non-driver like me can marvel at the engineering and functionalism of Bluebird, while shivering slightly at Campbell’s fate on Coniston Water.

 

Similar ambivalence is evoked by Angus Strachan’s haunting piece my three wheeler is blue with some yellow too,which references Campbell indirectly through the colour of the eponymous three wheeler, and directly ‘holy cow i’m breaking the donald campbell land speed record’The tone of a melancholy childhood adventure turns from poignant to gently fantastical, as a young boy pedals an urban landscape at four in the morning, in search of companionship.

Strachan’s poem demands close reading.  Its lack of capitalisation and punctuation, and its loose rhythm, force the reader both to experience the piece as a child’s stream of consciousness, and also to focus on the language to decide for themselves when the boy is moving on to a new idea.

Despite the lack of punctuation, however, the poet plays interesting games with form, indenting an eight line aside about a conversation between his ‘nanna’ and his ‘aunty pat who we never see anymore because there’d been a war’ which is apparently related by the boy while he’s yawning.

3 wheel park_parque_parco_paris_france_tree_art_arbol-482488

While the boy’s tricycle quest for friends sounds rather quixotic and sweet at first, darker tones quickly gather around the fringes of the poem.  The boy’s ‘older sister is hiding in a shoe box inside a cupboard’, we learn.  We have to conclude that the sister is dead, perhaps the shoe box contains memories and photographs of her life?  The sister is mentioned several times, foreshadowing the ghostly turn that events take in the poem’s final section.  And there are hints of domestic problems, of fiery tempers, and perhaps even abuse.  In the parenthetical yawn, we learn that the boy’s mother is belligerent, ‘on a hair trigger says mrs. albert from next door’.

As the boy pedals his way around ‘st kilda road’, the poem evokes the faintly eerie morning twilight atmosphere through references to the rustling of leaves and ‘the shadows whisper to the moon’, while he fondly imagines that he’s riding ‘a monster three wheeler’.

When a police car spots the boy and pursues him, the poet plays with the length of the lines, and even marks the development with the poem’s only rhyming couplet, ‘until a police car sees me and goes flashing red and the race is on for the quick and the dead’.  As the boy makes his escape ‘like zorro’, the lines grow shorter and shorter to add urgency until he has escaped and made his way home.

Home and safe once more, the boy finally finds companions.  A boy who looks ‘fog-lost and dreamy’ who he thinks he recognises from foster care, and conjoined twins who ‘step right through a wall’.  These figures are described with broad strokes that convey their physical natures even as they appear to be ghosts.

With his sister down the well, and these apparently supernatural children, it becomes likely that this boy’s dreamlike adventure through the twilight streets is a sign that he too is a ghost, confused about his past (‘i must have done something really bad’) but finally finding some friends.

Strachan’s language is generally simple, peppered with occasional firecracker and slightly archaic exclamations: holy jiminy-hellcats, lickety-split, holy cow, rat-a-tat.  These phrases leap from the page, and seem to encapsulate the boy’s exuberance.  Towards the end in particular, there are some wonderful poetic phrases, including ‘fog-lost and dreamy’ and ‘staring through the breakfast sky’ that heighten the beauty of the lonely boy finally finding acceptance.

Empty city streets have become much easier to visualise since the lockdown began, and the haunting sense of urban isolation conveyed by the poem will be familiar to anyone who’s gone out for an early morning walk in these strange times.  This is a wonderful poem, which grows richer and more layered with each successive reading.

Andrew Lawston

June 2020

Photography by Laura Brinscombe, Arthur Abol and Lars Buchan 

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    This is an incredible insightful review of an intriguing and disturbing poem. Both make good reading.

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