Shall I compare thee to ‘Spoon ‘n Cherry’?

The traveling poetry bus stops at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Emily Garber

Poetry readings are for the elite, right?

They’re reserved for that clique of jazz-club regulars whose downtown studios overflow with perfume and candlelight, who crowd into small galleries on Sunday nights to hear frizzy-haired poets stutter and pause for the sake of art.

The rest of us leave the poetry to Dr. Seuss and Shakespeare, maybe glancing at a poem once a year, but still giving up halfway because we just don’t get it.

The Poetry Bus Tour is attempting to bridge this imagined cultural gap one American city at a time. By bringing free and accessible spoken word, the tour takes the effort out of being cultured. Heck, they’re stopping at a prison along the way.

“It’s a funky bus tour of poets that’s going to take the enigma out of poetry,” said Kelly Everding, art director at Rain Taxi Review of Books.

Minneapolis-based Rain Taxi teamed with Seattle independent press Wave Books for the Minneapolis stop. Wave Books is calling it “the biggest literary event of 2006” and “the most ambitious poetry tour ever attempted.”

These are not exaggerations.

The bus, a 40-foot green and silver, 38-passenger, biodiesel will bring nationally read names such as Noelle Kocot and Eileen Myles to 48 cities over 50 days to read their works alongside local poets.

Becky Peterson, a Minneapolis poet and Ph.D. candidate at the University, is one of the participants.

“I love that the bus will be going to big cities, small cities, everywhere,” Peterson said. “It recognizes that poetry is being written and read all over the place.”

Most of the poets on the bus are not associated with Wave Books, so the tour will function less as a promotion and more as a union of literary scenes across the nation.

“The bus tour,” Wave editor Joshua Beckman said, “is attempting to create an environment in which poets from over a huge geographical area have meaningful engagement, not only through reading and listening, but collaborating.”

For already knowledgeable poetry fans, the tour’s stop at the Walker Art Center will be an opportunity to meet the poets and establish connections in an otherwise intimidating community. For rookies of the literary scene, the event could break open the seal of contemporary poetry that can sometimes seem locked against them.