The Bus Poets Society – Bus rides that inspire generations

Bus poetry CheckmyBus

Although we now live in a time when ultra modern buses (with 21st century features such as free WiFi, power plugs, etc.) zoom down the nation’s interstates, traveling by bus is still seen -quite unfairly, we might add- as the black sheep of intercity travel.

Bus rides that inspired generations

buses and poetry in America

Greyhound Bus Museum/Greyhound Bus Museum

But there was indeed a time when traveling by bus could become an oddisey of sorts. The lack of modern-day devices and bus WiFi, mid-century comfort with reduced legroom and climatization options meant that you would have to come up with creative ways to spend the 60 hours needed to traverse the country from New York to Las Vegas.

Having to deal with these shortcomings served to inspire a whole generation of writers who took advantage of the situation and helped to paint a verbal portrait of 20th-century America.

Allen Ginsberg’s “In The Baggage Room At Greyhound” is a wonderful example of this. The Beat poet managed to capture the vibe and atmosphere of a Greyhound station while waiting for his own bus to Los Angeles. The following excerpt shows the poem’s first stanza, in which Ginsberg ponders his existence, examines themes of social justice and provides an intimate glimpse to 1950s America:

“In the depths of the Greyhound Terminal
sitting dumbly on a baggage truck looking at the sky
waiting for the Los Angeles Express to depart
worrying about eternity over the Post Office roof in
the night-time red downtown heaven
staring through my eyeglasses I realized shuddering
these thoughts were not eternity, nor the poverty
of our lives, irritable baggage clerks,
nor the millions of weeping relatives surrounding the
buses waving goodbye,
nor other millions of the poor rushing around from
city to city to see their loved ones,
nor an indian dead with fright talking to a huge cop
by the Coke machine,

(…)

The clock registering 12:15 A.
M.
, May 9, 1956, the
second hand moving forward, red.

Getting ready to load my last bus.
-Farewell, Walnut
Creek Richmond Vallejo Portland Pacific
Highway
Fleet-footed Quicksilver, God of transience.”

The rest of the poem can be found on the internet for free. It is slightly NSFW, so be cautious when reading next to sensitive co-workers.

Bus poetry in the 21st century

Whereas the long distances make America a prime candidate for “bus poetry“, Great Britain also has its share of “bus poets“; chief among them, Manchester-born Peter Riley, a contemporary British poet who lists himself as a teacher, lecturer and bus conductor, among other things.

The modern bus and poems connection doesn’t end there. Celebrated cult director Jim Jarmusch recently debuted “Paterson“, a movie telling the story of a bus driver from Paterson, New Jersey (maybe not so coincidentally also the home town of poets Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams, author of the poem “Paterson”) whose dream is to become a renowned poet.

The city of Seattle put together an initiative to promote bus poetry. The program, founded in 1992, was recently rebooted and receives yearly poem submissions which are then published on the program’s website, poetryonbuses.org to make sure that bus poetry remains relevant also in the 21st century.

The British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ is celebrating this very fact and has challenged its readers to make October “Post a Poem about Buses” month. You are encouraged to post your own “bus poems” in the comments section and give the world a taste of your writing skills.

Is the bus poetry dream thereatened by modern-day comfort?

Greyhound buses

Greyhound Bus Lines/Greyhound Bus Museum

As nobel laureate, Robert Allen Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, once sang: ‘the times they are a-changin’. Bus travel has reinvented itself and riding the bus nowadays is not the same as it was in the 50s. Thanks to numerous amenities and on-board features, buses are now arguably the country’s most comfortable mode of transportation.

While the thought of spending time more “wisely”, checking e-mails, facebook and twitter feeds, should excite many an impatient passenger, there might also be a small percentage of passengers who wish bus WiFi and better legroom had never made its way onto bus travel.

While certainly not The Guardian, we also encourage our users to send us their bus poems or post them in the comments section.

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