Poetry Bus hits Walker as part of fifty-day tour

By Darren Angle

Last Thursday, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and Rain Taxi Review of Books hosted the 2006 Poetry Bus Tour—an event Rain Taxi editor, Eric Lorberer, called, “A marathon of poetry.”
According to the independent publishing press and sponsor, Wave Books, the Poetry Bus Tour is, “the biggest literary event of 2006 and the most ambitious poetry tour ever attempted.” Since Labor Day, poets from around the country have been packed into a 40-foot, Greyhound-style coach that reads POETRY BUS on the side. Their goal: to bring a variety of poets, published and unpublished, to read in 50 cities in 50 days.

The tour’s venues vary from the famous Green Mill in Chicago to a “Poetry Farm” in Wisconsin, and the poets have taken full advantage of each unique space they’ve been to so far. Their four-hour progressive reading through the Walker and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was wonderfully supplemented by the works—some of which were subjects of the poems.
Chris Fischbach, a poet and editor of Coffee House Press, read a poem in the garden about the massive sculpture Spoonbridge and Cherry, and living in Minneapolis. “It is a kingly thing, a city,” he read, weaving the sounds of cars passing into his poem by holding the mic up into the air. “Steel is the breath of sculpture / Sound is the breath of sculpture.”

The audience, comprised of poets and poetry fans alike, moved to a new sculpture for each reading, allowing a greater investment in each poet and how they chose (or chose not to) incorporate the sculptures into their own work. After the poets’ walk through the garden, the group moved inside to the U.S. Bank Orientation Lounge to hear Scott Helmes.

“This is a haiku,” Helmes said, pointing at a projection of what appeared to be an artsy, calculated ransom note. “I consider myself a visual-poet, and these are visual poems,” he explains. His work is meant to challenge the definition of a poem, using magazine cut-outs, still photos, and three-dimensional text to make up his lines. His final poem was a block of text that looked like a tapestry of alternating neon colors, a different color serving as the background for each word. “This is meant to be read by a group. Each person reads a certain color. But if I hadn’t told you that, it can stand alone as a visual piece, as well.”

In Gallery II, poets Anthony McCann and Becky Peterson read with a large canvas painted blue with body parts as their backdrop. Peterson appropriately read her poem, The Artist is Wild and Beautiful.

Next was the Perlman Gallery, where seating was arranged around a mangled car painted white, and Matthew Zapruder and local poet Brian Engel-Fuentes read at a mic stand in the corner. Fuentes, who’s money-making job is being a DJ in Minneapolis, described the whole experience saying, “This is a pretty cool thing. I haven’t [read poetry] in a couple of years… I’ve been sticking to the dance floor, making babies.” His poetry often referred to the space, “the room sways, swoons” he read in one poem. “Glass break/ alarm is sound,” in another.

Wave Books editor and tour organizer, Joshua Beckman, gave an involving performance in the Cargill Lounge, enticing the audience with his slow, inviting reading and clever, penetrating lines. “The mind/ it has been said/ its inabilities are most interesting / …bloody are our hours in reflection.”

The finale of the night was in the Cinema where poets Anselm Berrigan, John Colburn, Catherine Wagner, and G. E. Patterson left lovely, yet haunting, last impressions. Patterson performed brilliantly, softly delivering his words in streams of difficult language that begged constant attention. Anselm Berrigan also wowed the crowd with his refined wit, “may the bird flip behind your back be set free.”

The whole experience was enriching—the sheer variety of work coupled with the simple fact that so many poets were actually there, reading their lines the way they wrote them, was a gift to the Walker and to the Twin Cities. Rain Taxi’s Lorberer concluded the night with a simple, true summation: “Today is a good day to be a poet in Minneapolis.”