‘How important and how human’ — Poetry Moves in Clark County

Artstra, C-TRAN and Clark County Arts Commission bring poetry to public buses through season nine of Poetry Moves 

VANCOUVER — In 2016, the then Arts of Clark County, now Artstra, began a program with the goal of enriching community through poetry. The plan involved local writers, partnerships and buses. Lots of buses.

One of C-TRAN’s buses is seen at Turtle Place in Vancouver during the launch of Poetry Moves season six. Photo Courtesy of Poetry Moves
One of C-TRAN’s buses is seen at Turtle Place in Vancouver during the launch of Poetry Moves season six. Photo Courtesy of Poetry Moves

Through a partnership with C-TRAN, Artstra began a program to get locally-penned poetry on the buses for riders to enjoy during their commutes.  Poetry Moves was the result.

“How important and how human poetry is,” said Artstra Chair Karen Madsen. “It’s a way of keeping it alive in the public realm. When we first started this idea, we said, ‘you know it’d be great to be able to reach out to local poets.’ Maybe this is their first time that they’ve ever been published.”

Submissions for season nine are now open, and will close on Oct. 31 of this year. Since its inception four years ago, the program has included two season each year, one January through June and the second from July through December. The 10 poems chosen for the next season will be announced and then placed on buses in January at the start of 2020. 

In 2012, Artstra and the Clark County Arts Commission, founded the Clark County Poet Laureate program. This coincided with the inception of the discussion to bring poetry to public transit in the county.

Across the country, poetry has been and is currently featured on buses and public transportation. In Seattle, Poetry On Buses has been running since 1992, and introduced “a multi-lingual reboot” in 2014.

Poems featured in these other programs, however, tended to be from well-known, published poets. Madsen suggested a partnership with C-TRAN as a way to support the newly founded Poet Laureate program with local poetry. 

“It’s kind of exciting, and how it’s grown, and how people are aware of it, and how the poems actually have become better and better over the course of the last four years,” Madsen said. “Some people are taking the idea of writing a poem to the people who are on the bus … I’m actually thinking, ‘There are people on the bus that are going to read this poem, what’s their experience?’”

The poem “Strangers” by a 12th grader of VSAA is seen inside a bus during the sixth season of Poetry Moves. Photo Courtesy of Poetry Moves
The poem “Strangers” by a 12th grader of VSAA is seen inside a bus during the sixth season of Poetry Moves. Photo Courtesy of Poetry Moves

The first Clark County Poet Laureate Christopher Luna, along with his wife Tony, jumped on the idea, and supported the first two seasons of the program. Luna created a program featuring Poets in Schools, and added the concept of every other season being one of student poems.

To apply for this coming season, writers must be current residents of southwest Washington, but all levels of skill are welcomed. The organization has a great interest in drawing in new poets who could be published for the first time through Poetry Moves, Madsen said.

“This is a way of giving your poems voice,” she said.

Submission guidelines can be found on the Artstra website with the submission form. In general, poems should be seven lines or less, don’t need to have a theme and must be appropriate for all ages.  

Each year, a juror evaluates the poems submitted and chooses 10 that will be published on the buses for that season. For season seven, which featured poems from adults in the community, well-known poet Mark Seargent took the role, and was followed by the current Clark County Poet Laureate, Gwendolyn Morgan, for the student poems of season eight.  

“I have been a poet and a writer most of my life, and it’s been one of my passions, through literary arts and arts in general,” Morgan said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to to help lift up poetry in the community and in the county. A lot of teachers focused on having kindness in a theme. So there are some amazing poems on kindness.”

“I just would encourage people to, if they haven’t, if they’re on the bus to look up and notice the poem, when they’re riding the bus,” she said.

Once selected, poems are posted on the buses, with two on each bus. Once a season is over, the poems can still be read on the Artstra website. There is also a place to purchase the old prints of poems from the organization.

In April, the organization will host its annual celebration for Poetry Moves during the National poetry month. All the poets featured on the buses will gather together and read aloud their own work.

“We look a lot at screens,” Madsen said. “Poetry is a way of reaching a little deeper into who we are, as humans to who we are, as a culture, to who we are as the history of civilization. And with a very few words, we can say so much. The bus is a place where we’re captive, we’re taking a trip. And we can look out the window, we can look at our screen, or we can read a poem. It’s a way of reaching out. It’s a way of being emotionally connected to others.”

If you would like to submit a poem, read past poems or contribute to Artstra and Poetry Moves, you can visit them online at Artstra.org or on Facebook.

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