Derelict Bicycles by Dale Tracy, reviewed by Michael Edwards

Derelict Bicycles cover

Derelict Bicycles

Anvil Press 2022

November 2022
ISBN: 978-1-77214-198-6
Pages: 104 pp.
Size: 5 x 8 inches

Dale Tracy’s Derelict Bicycles (Anvil Press, 2022) is a collection of poems that rides on two wheels of surrealism and philosophy. The poems’ speaker dreams in language, translates several core images, metaphors, motifs which turn over on the rusty sprocket of reason. Like a movement of thought clanking against the chain. Logic lurches and glitches while works of other poets flap against these poems like trading cards in the spokes.  

Appearing in many of the poems, along with other images or metaphors, is the worm. More than symbol or motif, it is also a verb and an actor in the decomposition of language, in the midst of what is left—the output, the product, the poem. In “Intake,” “words eat energy to forge essences…like worms.”  

In an interview with poet Rob Taylor, on her work, Tracy explains that each poem in her debut collection contains the way of thinking what it is like to think in that poem. She engages in a unique philosophy of language, always thinking through poetry, making for an interesting and engaging metapoetic reading. 

     Throughout the volume, read attentively, there are whispers and nudges towards other poets. This comes as a byproduct of listening, what Tracy calls “happenstance,” comes the convergence of influence. The reading life of the poet is absorbed and reflected into the poet’s work. Quotation in reverie. Mostly not explicitly named, these influences include Keats, Blake, Eliot, and others more contemporary, Ashbery, Armantrout and certainly many others.  

     For instance, in “The Order of Mustards and Allies is Mine,” the poet squints at T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the “violet hour,” and manages to subvert and modify the iconic phrase. The speaker reports, “I’m aging, wrapped in clear / violet film,” eliciting the feeling of the cellophane crunch and tacky lastingness of plastics, perhaps something like “forever” compounds that withstand decay, only break down very slowly, like the western literary canon, ever-present and in the earth and ether. 

     As I read this collection, I also recognize, in the soil of the English language, the latency of William Blake. This recognition is triggered mainly by the presence of the worm as a central metaphor/character/conceit (see Blake’s poem “Proverbs of Hell” and “The Sick Rose”). In the way the “cut worm forgives the blade (Blake),” Tracy’s speaker similarly “cut[s] words / like worms in half / to let them speak.” Something new is made, newness by cleaving, producing a “splitting image of symmetry.” Blake’s words are both compost and composition. Tracy writes, “My mind is a container garden because my tongue is a worm.” 

     It is also—perhaps more importantly—in reading the poems more broadly, that Blake and his “folds of vision” become helpful lenses, regarding all that is outside of everyday, waking, objective observation and experience. It is an analogous way of perceiving and imagining that is multifold, merging well with the surrealist refraction of thought and sight, that Tracy identifies in “A Weird Part of Whatever.” The poem’s speaker tells of how a “curtain has been pulled” and the world is altered “but I can’t see the curtain.” 

     The poet frequently does philosophy, metaphysics, asks questions and makes claims like the “opposite of to be eludes,” echoing the work of Parmenides. In the book’s title poem, “Derelict Bicycles,” the speaker, pairing of unlikelihoods, asks, “is full of ghosts more or emptier than empty?” 

     Viewing the collection as an extended dream, the many vermicular and creaturely images signify and present themselves for psychoanalysis. In “Dream Vision,” the speaker says “no window leads my thoughts inside,” yet each poem invites the reader in for a closer reading. By spending more time with the poems “nonlocal relations vibrate,” recurring like a dream. Analysis is interesting as a way of reading what repeats. The speaker “remembers the repetition” and what “resounds” asking what is worth listening to again. The poet writes, “we beasts kick around in images rebounding.” In the poem, “Recurring,” the speaker tells of how frequently “writers find me to say dreams are poems” and how “every dream unhouses me / to floors I’m suffered to sleep on.” 

      The book also builds an Ars Poetica, interspersed with lines like, “Open your motif to the sky’s making,” “Art keeps our minds,” “Time is the paper humans exist on” and “voice ablates sense.” It is interesting to look at moments that comment on the types of poems these are, being of the surrealist mode. “Logic draws close” but semantic sense extends, countering reason. In “Sense’s Extension,” the speaker “cooks the data” and the atmosphere is electrocuted. The power of language, by resisting logic, stretches. Again the worm is at work in the buried-ness of absurdity, consuming, composting preposition into verb: “A little hill intos this ground.” Several instances like this get the reader thinking about how diction choices stand as a signpost to surrealist grammar and syntax. The poet calls the reader to “imagine every verb / arriving past your open mouth,” and in “Badmouth,” after having spent so long with the poems, I found myself chanting the line, in assonance and half-rhyme, “Open wide / parade the mind.”  


Dale Tracy is the author of the chapbooks The Mystery of Ornament (above/ground press, 2020) and Celebration Machine (Proper Tales Press, 2018), the chappoem What It Satisfies (Puddles of Sky Press, 2016), and the monograph With the Witnesses: Poetry, Compassion, and Claimed Experience (McGill-Queen’s, 2017). Her poetry has appeared in filling Station, Touch the Donkey, and The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada, among others. She is a faculty member in the English Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and lives on unceded Coast Salish territory. Derelict Bicycles is her first full-length poetry collection.

Michael Edwards is a writer living in Vancouver, BC on traditional, unceded territory of the Musqueam people. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio Online at SFU, his poems and prose have been published in various online journals. He is also the editor of Red Alder Review, an online publication focused on building connections between writers and the wider community. Blog: // Twitter: @michaelwrites1