Rick’s Gentleman’s Express Blog

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The Motorcyclist

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I heard George Elliott Clarke doing readings from his book The Motorcyclist at the recent CVMG National Rally. Mr. Clarke was there by invitation of the local bookstore. He is the current Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate and a professor of English at the University of Toronto.

The Motorcyclist is a novel loosely based on the diaries of Clarke’s father, William Lloyd Clarke. The book is not so much about motorcycling as it is about the life of a young black man living in 1959 Halifax. Carlyle Black is one of five sons raised by a single mother in a rat-infested converted barn in Halifax’s north end. His mother does sailor’s laundry (and sometimes the sailors) in order to make ends meet. Intelligent, blessed with dashing good looks and with a penchant for classical music and painting, Carl is nevertheless considered lucky to have a job as a lowly railroad porter. He dreams of escaping Halifax for New York’s Greenwich Village but until he can make good on that dream he settles for the escape he finds on his gleaming BMW R69 and with the women it helps him attract. Muriel, Avril, Laura, Marina and Liz are all eager to hop on the bike with Carl, each for their own reason.

In Canada we like to think that we are open-minded — that racism is an American problem. It is ironic then, that Carl wants to move to an American city to escape the dead end future of a racist Canadian city. In New York, when out on a date with a white woman, he would not have to drop her off a block away and then meet her at her hotel by pretending to be delivering Chinese food to her room. In New York he could live off his artistic talents instead of being a manual labourer. The Halifax of half a century ago depicted in the book is not a place you would like to be, whether you are black or white.

Clarke’s style works after you get yourself in a Beat Generation/On the Road kind of mood and remember that, after all he is a poet. He does not sugar coat his protagonist’s moral shortcomings and character flaws and also takes the time to see things from the perspective of the womanizer’s women. All in all a good read for all motorcyclists, even if it is more about the women that Carl takes for a ride than it is about Carl’s motorcycle.

Written by admin

August 8th, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized