San Francisco, CA & Ashland, OR / Bill Wesley, the bus driver

I wake in the Mission with coffee on my mind, and more than just my first blog to be nervous about—I’ve written four poems and it’s highly likely that I’ll be reading them in Ashland tonight, after driving 350 miles and bringing the Poetry Bus very close to the 12,000 mile mark.

The day before at the Make Out Room, where the Noon reading was held, I was completely blown away by Noelle Kocot’s reading of her poem “Civilisation Day,” so later that night, after the evening reading in the Haight (she read with a jazz band behind her!) I showed her my poems, which she liked very much (she assured me she would tell me if they sucked) and talked about how she works. I was amazed to find out the poetry just flows out of her in a rush and she leaves it unedited! After attending a few readings early on in the trip, I found myself thinking in poetics and before long I was composing little bits in my head as I realized the narrative form would be the best entry-level poetry for me since I had years on the road and more than a few stories to tell. I somehow gravitated to stories involving wildlife contact of some sort, and I have been writing and editing them in my head as I drive. Finally I got a chance to put them down in my laptop in LA, and showed them to Joshua Beckman in Santa Cruz. He gave some great advice on editing and I made some major rewrites on one and minor tightening on the others, until I felt they were ready to go public.

It’s a beautiful fall day in Northern California. Driving up I-5, we pass through miles of open farmland through Dunagan and Willow and Williams. Up around Williams there are big fires everywhere. We drive through one big, dark cloud of smoke. I think the fires are deliberately set to burn of the detritus of harvest time. We head up through Corning and Redding. We climb up into the mountains crossing over Lake Shasta, following the Sacramento River up to Mount Shasta.

It’s a beautiful time of year up in the mountains of Northern California but we don’t have time to stop and enjoy it because we are worried about making our 7pm deadline. Slow going over Siskiyou summit but we make it into Ashland with plenty of time to spare and a beautiful sunset there. Every city on the tour is its own little navigational parking nightmare for the bus, and Ashland is no exception, but the problems are relatively slight and we get ourselves parked at the venue with few problems. Joshua and Travis and Matthew have their meetings over the order of the readers and then they come to me and tell me I’m reading third in the second set, which is fine with me. I feel good about it. I had my poems looked over by Joshua, Noelle, and Anthony McCann and all seemed to like them so I didn’t think I would make a complete ass out of myself. I am a little bit nervous though. We get up into the Meese room of the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University to find a full house in a nice intimate little room with great acoustics. The poets in the first set are all great and I’m feeling more and more nervous as my time comes closer. During the break I go to Joshua who has promised to help me time my poems so I don’t go over the five minute limit and we have a nice little discussion about reading; of course Linas’ camera is right there.

Kasey Mohammad, the only local poet on the list tonight, reads first in the second set, a set of flarf poems. Rick Meier gives a great reading, and then it’s my time. I introduce myself and mention that I have been driving the bus for nearly 12,00 miles Which gets big applause—I have my poems all printed out in all caps and I think its in a large enough font but I get up there and I find can’t see it without holding the paper right in front of my face. I fluff a few lines but I get through it okay. The nerves are easing away. I’ve got a lot of experience speaking in front of people so it’s not too bad. People seem to be enjoying them okay. I finish and am met with a huge wave of applause. I sit down to watch the rest of the poets. Lisa Fishman gives a great reading and Joshua Beckman’s always awesome. Christian Hawkey, I’d never heard him before—beautiful stuff.

Then Matthew comes up, sits down next to me and lets me know how much he enjoyed it. That means so much coming from him. He also gave me some tips regarding the font, a font with a serif would be easier to read, all caps can make it harder to read, and it didn’t help that the light above the podium had gone out. All and all it went well. All the poets on the bus give me very positive feedback and Kasey Mohammad commented that there were no clichés. And of course the whole time, Linas has his camera in my face. Then I’m back behind the wheel as I have to do some tight bus maneuvering backing out of the college library parking lot and driving a few blocks pulling in behind the public library. Craig Wright was generous enough to put everyone up in his beautiful home nearby. We had a nice meal in town. The best thing about the meal was the camaraderie and the conversation. I’ve been made to feel like one of the family from day one, but now I feel like I’m one of the poets. Afterwards, we go to Craig’s house and hang out a little bit but it’s getting late and we have a lot of miles to cover in the morning, and I have my first blog to write, so I head back to the bus.

Originally Published: October 24th, 2006