Article 9: The Traffic Poet

On a typical weekday morning, Michael Boughn, like millions of others across the GTA, is stuck in traffic.

As the congestion tightens its grip on his Volvo station wagon, it stirs his rage but - unlike you or me, content to just slam our hands on the steering wheel - the traffic also becomes his muse, for Boughn is a poet and in his poetry traffic has become a recurring theme. Here he gives eloquent voice on behalf of that massive mute throng of people screaming inside their cars across the city:

Various ramps announce
impassable blockades of jammed
up steel and rubber founding economies
of pain

He continues, expressing the absurdity of being alive in a time when we can sit inside machines that could take us faster than any humans ever before, but nobody's moving:

…sheer unlikeliness
of the sky caught up in rivers
of red lights, silent and still
stretching into fields of grief.

Boughn gets stuck in traffic while driving his daughter, a hockey goaltender who dreams of playing for Team Canada, to various hockey practices and games around the city and its far-flung exurbs. “My last 20 years have been all about children,” he says, as a motorcycle comes to the stoplight, rumbling. “I started writing poems sitting outside their tennis lessons.” The traffic poems are part of a three volume work of poems that Boughn is writing about the city. Carrying around a black notebook, he writes poems wherever he is, all over the city. Asked about a line from his first book --

fibrillations or analogical
eruptions into parking lots across
GTA, little gestures of love oozing
into front seats with hot pizza

-- Boughn recalls that it was written while he sat in his car across from Sports Village in Vaughan. “In the car in front of me there was a dad and his son eating pizza.”

So there is goodness and love in cars, though Boughn notices something off about cars and traffic, perhaps even a culture-wide but hitherto unacknowledged BDSM practice where we are:

sewn tight, imposed angular
bound vision into knotted
contortions leave limbs
wrenched, dislocated, cramped

Traffic, it's weird -- and getting worse. Statistics Canada reports the average time spent commuting to and from work nationwide increased from 54 minutes in 1992 to 63 minutes in 2005. In a year, that adds up to about 32 working days spent sitting in traffic (five more than in 1992). And that’s the average. In Toronto, it’s nearly 80 minutes a day, of what Boughn calls the “asphalt coffin” on the “flashing doom corridor.” One study found trips here in Toronto take three times longer than they should. Globally there are places worse off, so it’s good that someone has recognized the poetic potential of traffic. One hopes that knowing about the sheer unlikeliness of having a traffic poet in our midst makes it just a little tiny bit more interesting to be going nowhere.

--David Stokes