Poetry fans, keep an eye out this fall for a Green Tortoise bus.
Look beyond the bookstore or campus lecture hall. Try a ranch in Missoula, Mont.; a sushi bar in Spokane, Wash.; or a church in Providence, R.I. Peek inside this 40-foot coach, if you dare, and expect to find beds, seating areas, work stations and, at any given time, a couple of dozen road-tested poets.
The 2006 Poetry Bus Tour, billed as the “most ambitious poetry tour ever attempted,” is a voyage of verse that will cover 50 cities in 50 days, a pace that could wear out the most experienced politician or rock star. The tour is being organized by Wave Books, a Seattle-based poetry press.
“When my first book (‘Things Are Happening’) came out, I went on a 50-stop tour, just by myself, in my car,” says poet Joshua Beckman, an editor at Wave Books and co-founder of the tour with fellow poet and Wave Books editor Matthew Zapruder. “It reminded me of the way musicians would tour, when you put something creative out, you drove around and showed it to people. And my experience on that first tour was so interesting, just going to all those places and meeting people. I kept looking to expand on it, and share it with other people.”
The tour, which includes both Wave and non-Wave poets, begins Labor Day at the Bumbershoot Music Festival in Seattle and wraps up in late October, back home at Seattle’s Space Needle. An evolving cast of poets, from eminences such as John Ashbery to writers who have yet to be published, will join and leave along the way.
Some, like the 79-year-old Ashbery and fellow Pulitzer Prize winner James Tate, will simply participate in readings. Others will stick around longer, like 31-year-old Cole Heinowitz, who plans to spend two nights on the bus in October.
“I think that cohabitation is a great way to break through boundaries that otherwise don’t get broken down, especially in the sometimes professionalistic and distant world of poets. I also love the idea of lying on my back and looking out the windows while we move at 60 miles per hour,” says Heinowitz, whose books include “Daily Chimera” and the upcoming “The Rubicon.”
Readings will take place wherever open spaces are to be found, and, ideally, food and accommodations provided. The tour will feature stops at the First Unitarian Church in Providence; the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; the Butler Creek Ranch in Missoula; and, just south of Madison, Wis., an organic farm run co-managed by poet Lisa Fishman, who looks forward to two extended stays on the bus.
“I think it’ll be a dream come true,” says the 39-year-old Fishman, whose third book, “The Happiness Experiment,” is scheduled to come out next year. “I think there’ll be a lot of energy. I imagine a lot of singing, because when you’re traveling on the road, in an enclosed space, I have a feeling you revert to that childhood activity of singing on the bus.”
Wave Books expects to burn through more than 1,500 gallons of gas and more than 150 gallons of coffee. The caravan of poets will include a filmmaker, two professional astrologers and continuous online updates.
Asked what he expects to happen when you throw together dozens of poets — male and female, average age 32 — in an enclosed environment for days or weeks at a time, Beckman laughs nervously, and a little wickedly, then suggests two very different outcomes.
“People have different ideas what a poetry bus can be,” he says. “A lot of people think a poetry bus is the most boring thing you could imagine, like a bus full of people incredibly quietly reading. Others think about Ken Kesey and think it’s going to be crazy, with nobody wearing any clothes and lots of drugs.
“To be honest, if I really knew what was going to happen I wouldn’t be as excited as I am right now.”