At 11 am on Wednesday, September 27, a group of curious onlookers gathered on Skinner Green to wait for the Wave Books Poetry Bus. They admitted they weren't exactly sure what a Poetry Bus was but were eager to find out. Kris Bergbom, assistant director of operations for student programs, snapped shut her cell phone and announced that the bus was on its way from Amherst and would arrive shortly. A few minutes later, someone exclaimed, "It's here," and heads turned to watch a white biodiesel bus marked in bold red letters, "Poetry Bus," pull into campus and park in front of Skinner Hall. The passengers--mostly young, mostly female--descended from the bus and got to work setting up the PA system, arranging folding chairs, and chatting with the audience.
This is day 24 of the bus's 50-day, 50-venue tour, bringing poetry to big cities and small towns across the U.S. and Canada. The bus has planned stops at the other Five Colleges as well. Over 100 poets in all are participating in the project, most of them joining the tour for stints close to their homes.
Joshua Beckman, an editor of Wave Books, a publishing house, and mastermind of the Poetry Bus, explained that he had been thinking about the idea of the Poetry Bus for a long time. Only recently, though, did he decide that the bus should be fueled with biodiesel. "It wasn't originally part of it, but with what's happening in the world now, it just seemed necessary." Beckman, who has been with the bus since it took off from the Space Needle in Seattle on September 4, was full of stories about the excitement and energy the bus has generated so far, in places like Spokane, Washington; Missoula, Montana; and Omaha, Nebraska. He excused himself to test the microphone. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? That works," boomed out across the green. The audience fell silent as the first traveling poet, Betsy Wheeler, stepped up to the microphone to begin the group reading. Other poets followed, including a collaborative trio known as the Typing Explosion, who create poetry in public places on typewriters based on titles suggested by passersby.
As the poets read, people drifted over, some carrying their lunches, and took a seat on the grass. It was a perfect fall day; clear and crisp under a brilliant blue sky. Lori Shine, one of the readers and managing editor of Wave Books, said, "This amazing weather makes us want to read only love poems."
Listen to Poetry by Betsy Wheeler (2.4MB MP3 00:02:55)
Watch Video (abc40's news coverage) (18.9MB QuickTime 00:01:08)