After a seven-year hiatus, 4Culture has resurrected the “Poetry on Buses” program. The public art project, funded through Percent-for-Art funds, aims to elevate the ordinary bus commute.
Four buses in King County Metro Transit’s RapidRide fleet will be outfitted entirely with homegrown poetry and no ads. Another 109 buses will feature one poem each. Poems will be featured on select bus shelters. And there’s also a website that offers a new poem every day for the next year.
The theme for this year’s collection is “Writing Home.”
“This program is about seeing yourself,” says Tamar Benzikry-Stern, 4Culture’s public art project manager. “It’s about finding a moment or finding a word that reflects back at you, something that is of you because this is the place that you live or the place that you’re from. Or, it offers you an opportunity to see someone who is not like you but who is equally sharing this home.”
Poet planner Roberto Ascalon, a poet himself, held a series of community workshops to help bring forth a first for Poetry on Buses: poems in other languages. Vietnamese, Spanish, Somali and Russian poems are now included. And those who contributed poetry represent a vast cross-section of residents: recent arrivals, long-ago immigrants, high schoolers as well as professional writers.
“Every poem is a gift,” says Ascalon.
The overarching goal of the project is to build community, to connect us to a stranger whose poetry might reflect our own truths.
Listen to six people whose poems are included in the project:
Patrick Parr teaches fiction and English as a Second Language at the University of Washington. “Many of us aren’t rooted in our culture,” he says. “We seem to be drifting back and forth to different places.” So his poem is about movement and being constantly restless.
Maria de Lourdes Victoria is an author who writes in both English and Spanish. She’s part of a new bilingual writer’s group called Seattle Escribe. De Lourdes Victoria is originally from Veracruz, Mexico. Her poem, she says, is about how we’re all individuals but how we are all part of a community, sharing in a common journey.
Beth Daynes is an instructional designer who commutes on the bus daily from Redmond to Pioneer Square. She writes poetry based on a moment in time so the idea of “home” conjured up a childhood memory in Walla Walla, the day her dad came home after having surgery.
Van Ceu has written a poem called “Memory of Home.” He recalls the waterfalls, the pagoda and the fruit found in his grandfather’s garden in his native Burma, now known as Myanmar. Ceu is a student at Foster High School in Tukwila.
Deqa Mumin is a student at Seattle’s Cleveland High School. She’s a runner, a writer, a rock climber a musician and a poet. She’s a member of the youth poetry collective Youth Speaks Seattle. “I am kind of different than most Somali girls. I’m supposed to have a headwrap on,” she says. Her poem, she says, is an expression of who she is. The line she reads in Somali is her quoting her late grandmother: "Thank God you have a lot of knowledge. You’re very intelligent."
Roberto Ascalon is a teacher, a poet and a graduate student at Western Washington University. As the project's Poet Planner, he came up with this year's theme and helped convene community-writing workshops. “This poem is about my mom and dad coming from the Philippines, coming across the seas, and the gap between what you recognized as home and where we’ve come and the distance aches.”