Kenny’s post about a readership existing solely in the academy made me think about a ridership. I usually resist decrees about what is and isn’t a poem, who is and isn’t a poet etc. But if I had a rule, it might be that every person who claims the title poet must have at least one poem that they could sit down and read to a stranger on a public bus and forge some kind of connection. I’d call it the public bus rule. You could have nine hundred other poems that are elusive, difficult etc., but you'd need at least one poem that engages a regular person on a single listen.

Originally Published: May 20th, 2007

Jeffrey McDaniel is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Other books include The Endarkenment (Pittsburgh, 2008), The Splinter Factory (Manic D, 2002), The Forgiveness Parade (Manic D Press, 1998), and Alibi School (Manic D, 1995). His poems have...

  1. May 21, 2007
     J. Bryan Shoup

    Interesting. But how does this rule work in real life? Is it more that you as an established poet could read a younger poet's work and proclaim "This is the public bus poem," or can a poet declare what their public bus poem is?
    The difficulty, I would think, is that different people on the average public bus would respond differently to any given poem.
    And when you say "One poem that engages a regular person on a single listen," isn't that a difficult test to administer?
    Though I do think your rule is a great aspiration for each poet, I wonder how it would work in real life. That might be a fun Poetry Foundation project -- assemble folks to ride public buses with a survey-like clipboard of poems that they ask random riders to judge. See which poems get the best response.

  2. May 21, 2007

    great! the public bus rule! reminds me of bukowski who said, that his poems are written to be understood by everyone not only by the literature elite. so the public bus rule is a little easier...not all poems...but at least one!

  3. May 21, 2007

    Hey Ken,
    Great to hear from you. I'm going to be over in Germany from June 18th to the 24th. Mostly in Berlin. I'm reading in Munich on June 20th. I'll be back there in July, Munich/Augsburg area. Best wishes, Jeffrey