The theme of this year’s Poetry on Buses, your body of water, challenges us to see the connections we have to each other in our communities and to take a closer look at how we look at ourselves, our environment, and the rest of the natural world around us.
The idea that we are all connected in more ways than we think is tied to an effort by Poetry on Buses organizers to reach out to Seattle’s communities of color who may not have been served by the program in the past.
The Poetry on Buses program features poems that are submitted by individuals of different cultures from around the greater King County on a broad range of bus, rail, and station venues. The program has been around since 1992 and this year features poems from a total of nine different languages, which will also be made available online.
“We want to try and be connected with those that we haven’t served as strongly [in the past],” said Heidi Jackson. As project manager at 4Culture, Jackson oversees the Poetry on Buses community outreach sector and was key in relaunching the program after its seven-year sabbatical from 2007 to 2014. “We are including poetry not just in English but from some of the other most commonly spoken languages in King County.”
After adding Russian, Vietnamese, Somali, and Spanish last year, Poetry on Buses added five more languages including Amharic, Chinese, and Punjabi, spoken by one of the largest populations in South Seattle.
An expanded effort by Poetry on Buses to reach underserved county populations in 2016 is made possible through a partnership between 4Culture, City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, Sound Transit, King County Metro, King County Wastewater Treatment Division, King County Water and Land Resources Divisions, and Seattle Public Utilities.
The program is run by 4Culture and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture with a poet planner, community liaisons, and poets shaping the series of upcoming workshops.
Jourdan Keith is the new poetry planner for this season of Poetry on Buses.
“Poetry is a vehicle to raise people’s awareness,” Keith said. “It also slows us down so that we can notice things around us.”
Keith began writing poetry as a teenager in high school and soon found her passion for the outdoors after spending time at her cabin with just her journal. Now an environmental activist, Keith helped frame this year’s theme—your body of water.
Keith said this year’s efforts to reach underserved communities goes beyond the addition of new languages.
“It’s not only about having workshops in different languages, but to understand the differences in culture about what water means,” Keith said.
In the Punjabi culture, everything is centered around five rivers, in the Spanish culture all water has a spirit, in the Ethiopian culture if someone is beautiful, you compare them to water.
“That’s what has been driving me to do poetry—understanding water around the world is so neat and different, there is so much more to it than people think,” Keith said.
In addition, Poetry on Buses allows for the crossing of different cultural backgrounds. It promotes inclusiveness, especially for those that may have not been as engaged in the past, such as the Asian American Pacific Islander community, Keith said.
As the Chinese Community Liaison for the Poetry on Buses program, Yuping Kuang is finding ways to engage the Asian Pacific Islander community connect them with those who are exposed to the programs poetry throughout the city.
“It is important for [our] programs’ immigrants to recognize the bilingual and multicultural society here in Seattle,” Kuang said. “By having the Poetry on Buses program, it helps promote cultural and social diversity.”
Participation in Poetry on Buses is not reserved for poets either. Anyone can submit work to be featured.
“I love working with people who don’t identify as writers,” Keith said.
It’s the goal of Poetry on Buses to reach out to the broader community to try and engage them with the art of poetry.
“The greatest thing about this project is that it’s a public art project that calls for poetry from anybody who is a King County resident,” Jackson said.
The first workshop for the Poetry on Buses program will be held May 1 and continue through the end of September. For more information, visit poetryonbuses.org.