Arts Letter of the Day
posted by March 2 at 14:04 PMon
END BUS POETRY
EDITOR: For some reason, I have this nasty habit of reading poetry posted on those ad boards near the ceilings of buses. Reading it is not so bad (as long as you’re quiet about it), the real difficulty is liking it. I’ve discussed this with numerous people. I can’t help myself. Whenever I do broach the subject in mixed company (much to my regret later), there are always two standard responses: (1) I hate poetry, it always seems to be a bunch of flowery words about someone’s feelings, or (2) I write poetry. Would you like to hear some? The answer is always no. But the ‘I write poetry’ response always prompts me to ask a discouraging question, ‘do you read poetry’? Which is always followed with, ‘no… not really…’ and then, an awkward silence.
The ‘poetry sucks’ response is a little easier to handle, mostly because it is, for the most part, true. Most poetry does suck. And it is usually the people with the second answer, the ‘I write poetry’ response, who make the ‘poetry sucks’ people come to that conclusion. Anytime they see (like on a bus) or hear (at a slam) poetry, it is the epitome of all that they dislike about it – it feels like they are uncomfortably sitting in on someone’s counseling session or listening to a very bad white rap album. It’s no Wallace Stevens or Ai. It’s the guy in the cube next to them writing synthetic verse about the standard social issues (a poem about racism – how shocking!) with overused words he’ll rap out at the next open mike, or the oddly librarian friend of the family who self-publishes book after book and attends Richard Hugo House seminars, or its some random person with a brain 50-words or less who finds it fulfilling to have his or her creativity on a placard beside an ad for a topnotch divorce lawyer and Metro’s mechanic of the year.
All this promotes the view that poetry is crap. But without question, the worst offender is King County Metro’s contemptible program, Poetry on Buses (now accepting submissions for 2007!). I have never met anyone who can defend the aesthetic quality of any poem posted on the ad space on a bus. It is all so horrid (as I said, I do read them); I more often feel embarrassed for the poet and feel worse for the poor commuter subjected to this perversion of poetry.
And this is why Metro needs to stop the program entirely—to save poetry. It already has a dismal readership. There is no such thing as a poetry best-seller (unless you count Jewel’s hideous collection of bad song lyrics peddled as verse a few years back). People either detest it or write it, no one wants to read it.
The only people who think poetry on buses is a good idea support it out of principle. These are the same people who consider themselves patrons of the arts because they go to an independent film once a year and regurgitate adages they heard on NPR, i.e. non-bus-riders.
So, why is Metro forcing detestable poetry on their poor patrons (who already have to deal with late buses, gridlock, and nutty commuters)? So more people can come to conclusion that it sucks? To promote (the lack of) careers of more dreadful poets? We don’t need any more. Leave them in small bookstores reading to empty chairs and at touchy-feely workshops where they’ll be told to keep trying and competing for the poet populist honor. Don’t force it on the uninterested public. Metro would do better to commit their resources to improving their services, not to destroying an art form already emitting a death rattle.