Poetry in Traffic

Michael Giberson

I’ve been reading and enjoying Tom Vanderbilt’s book, Traffic, subtitled “Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us).”  The book appeals to the “amateur traffic engineer” in me.  Maybe you have one too, a little voice in your head that clicks on when you are stuck in traffic and says, “We could all be moving much faster if you guys just learned how to drive.”

I found a sentence (p. 126) to read nicely as a bit of traffic poetry (I’ve broken the prose sentence into three lines, in the manner of most poetry):

Or the hiccup in heavy traffic that passes through you

might be the echo of someone who, forward in space

and backward in time, did something as simple as change lanes.

I particularly like the way the meter has a sort of pulsing flow through the lines until you reach the last two words, which to my ear must both be stressed.  A spondee, in poetic terms, that brings the flow of the sentence to a halt, while echoing the “hiccup” at the beginning of the first line.

You might also note the manner in which the syntactic unit “forward in space and backward in time” is broken over two lines, a poetic device called enjambment, which seems appropriate for this found poem about a hiccup in heavy traffic.

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4 thoughts on “Poetry in Traffic

  1. Absolutely. It must be inescapable that an analytic mind repeatedly enduring heavy traffic will analyze and theorize about the phenomenon and try to devise ways to improve it. Suspecting that, I once asked a notable rocket-scientist-turned-energy-quant what she thought about in heavy traffic, and she said, “Oh, I’m always optimizing!”

    I do appreciate both the poetry and the meaning of those lines.

  2. Pingback: How We Drive, the Blog of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic » Blog Archive » Enjambment

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