Poetry In Motion: South Seattle Poems Travel by Metro

by Marcus Harrison Green

poetry on busNo less than Plato – begetter of Western Civilization that he is – intoned that “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history,” if so, a cortege of verisimilitude fastened to Seattle’s southern parcel will soon be trekking through King County proper. However, its vehicle of choice should drop the jaws to pavement of any who find the medium analogous to high brow, elite or esoteric, for it has gleefully forsaken any extravagant conveyance to venture with the layperson by bus!

Beginning Monday, King County Metro buses will prominently display the lyrical prose of local poets just above the heads of Metro riders in placards that are usually reserved for advertisements and public service announcements as part of Poetry on Buses.

A product of 4Culture – King County’s Public Development Authority that essentially functions as its arts curator – Poetry on Buses’ intent is to bring  broader exposure to the work of King County poets – whether master or novice – to a captive audience of bus riders throughout the county.

With 4Culture sending out a call for poems last spring (using libraries, schools, community centers and of course buses as channels to generate awareness of the project), over 620 people from around the county sent in submissions hoping to have their words graced by the eyeballs of metro commuters during the intervening time between allowing Joe Metro to shuffle them to and from work.

The only criteria poets were required to adhere to outside of length considerations – buses are only so large after all as anyone who has taken Metro route 7 can attest – was that their poems had to somehow touch on the theme of “Writing Home.”

Of the 365 poets whose work was chosen to be showcased, only 125 will actually have their melodic verse featured on buses while the rest will have their poetry featured on the project’s website. Thirty-eight of them reside in South Seattle, hailing from the neighborhoods of Skyway, Rainier Beach, Hillman City, Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, Georgetown and Columbia City.

It’s believed to have one of, if not the highest, representation of any area in Washington’s most populous county. Another voucher to aid in the area earning its moniker of the “New Harlem.”

“4Culture has been working hard to expand our reach in South King County,” says Jim Kelly, Executive Director of 4Culture, “and we’re very excited there are so many strong poetic voices from this community that have found an opportunity to express themselves through Poetry on Buses.”

Though it might be easy for many south end natives to blithely dismiss the announcement as simple literary window dressing – and if they had their druthers they would much prefer buses that actually ran on time coupled with plenty of seating naked of any decor whatsoever – there is no small shortage of people who see it as a desperately sought for opportunity to trumpet narratives of the south end that are rarely heard by anyone outside of the immediate area.

“Poetry on Buses means a lot to me as I have been living a life of homelessness until recently,” said Gabriella Duncan who lives in the Skyway area.

“I am now temporarily housed at the Seattle Catholic Worker. Before that I rode buses with my friends outside to understand the critical value of having bus tickets especially in the winter. I myself have a terrible fear of buses! One of my posts on Facebook included a picture I took of myself because my car broke down and I had to ride the bus! I was out of mind with fear!”

Duncan adds that her time without either housing or transportation to call her own gave her a newfound appreciation for taking the bus – especially one that may act as a mobile exhibition of her poetry. “I learned a hard lesson about survival of our (homeless) friends and the survival of our transit system here in my new home (of Skyway). It’s a wonderful thing to be able to share that.”

Poetry on Buses will officially kick off tomorrow with a launch party held at the Moore Theatre in downtown Seattle, and will include live poetry readings, music and cocktails. Those who exclusively commute via either car, bike or Nike will not be left out from savoring the melodic verse of south end poets, as they can venture digitally to Poetry on Buses’ website and be treated to a new poem every day until November 9th.

That being said, there may be no substitute for actually experiencing the words of the “Bards of South Seattle ” on the big yellow and green taxis of King County Metro as one local poet whose work was not selected quipped, “Now that is what I call poetry in motion!”