Poetry on Buses invites King County residents to create, share, and experience poetry on public transit, online, and in community.
Dating back to 1992, Poetry on Buses was reimagined in 2014 to foster relationships with immigrant and undeserved communities, feature multiple languages, and transform the commute for culture—on bus and on smartphone. The 2016-18 program is first of its kind: multi-modal and featuring poetry in 9 languages.
We hired six Community Liaisons to develop customized outreach strategies and co-develop 11 poetry workshops among African American, Chinese, Ethiopian, Punjabi, Spanish-speaking, and Indigenous communities. Multi-generational and varied in style, these workshops explored poetry and the “Your Body of Water” theme articulated by Jourdan Keith, a poet, water advocate, and our Poet Planner. While focused on individual communities, the project also reminds us of our interconnectedness, via water and the transit system.
The workshops coincided with an open call for poems. More than 1,600 residents responded with 50-word poems on the theme. A diverse group of writers reviewed submissions in Amharic, Chinese, English, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese (highest-need languages for Limited-English-Proficient populations in King County) and selected 365.
A celebration at the historic Moore Theatre launched the Your Body of Water collection: 100+ poems on buses, light rail, and streetcars—thanks to new fiscal and programmatic partnerships with 6 transit and water stewardship agencies—and all 365 poems on poetryonbuses.org, debuting one every day for a year.
With 7 fully outfitted Poetry Buses, Trains and Streetcars—no ads, all poems—and more poems strewn throughout the fleet, Poetry on Buses subverts advertisement with culture, and the placement of non-English poems provides a more inclusive record of local voices. Meanwhile, ongoing pop-up “Roadshow” readings on buses, trains and with community festivals bring these voices to life in urban and suburban King County.