You've just spent a hard day squinting at a VDT, your eyes feel like pinballs, your tongue feels like a fish, your car is either in the shop or it's your don't-drive-one-in-five day and you are, well, riding the bus.
While rumbling along yet another street under construction, you happen to glance at the oh-so-exciting array of public service ads above you and, lo and behold, your eyes alight on a placard with a reproduction of a modern painting accompanied by a short poem.
Culture? On the bus? In Phoenix? Blinking in disbelief, you look again. The poem, by Theodore Enslin, is definitely apropos:
No one returns along the
road he came on
Only the sigh
of shadows in the dust.
Then you notice another placard right above your head. This one features Charles Bukowski. Charles Bukowski? The poet laureate of booze, blowjobs and skid-row bums who was immortalized in the films Barfly and Tales of Ordinary Madness? Indeed it is:
I've been so down in the mouth lately
that sometimes when I
bend over to lace my shoes,
I see three tongues.
Hey, now there's a sentiment that's easy to relate to. Directly above you is another poem, this one in English and Spanish. (Sorry, Proposition 106 is not spoken here.) What is this, anyway? A subliminal plot to get yuppies out of their BMWs and onto the buses?
What it is, in fact, is the Streetfare Journal. The placards occupying the advertising space above the seats are the result of an ambitious public arts and literacy project. Sponsored by AMNI America Inc. (formerly Winston Network), Streetfare Journal is now seen in nearly 13,000 buses in more than a dozen big cities--and Phoenix.
"We feel the project provides a little bit of culture for the riders on buses, something beyond offensive graffiti or ads for Pepsodent or Afro Sheen," says Loretta Bulebosh, local marketing manager for AMNI America. "It's also a way to provide some inspiration for the riders on the way to work or wherever, and it's also there to give something back to the riders, to show some appreciation for their patronage."
Begun in 1984 by San Francisco poet George Evans, who also edits the series, Streetfare Journal features verse by such writers as Bukowski, Pulitzer nominee Lucille Clifton, Bob Kaufman (originator of the term "beatnik"), Cid Corman, Octavio Paz, and Genny Lim. The poetry is accompanied by art reproductions from the likes of Sam Francis, Miriam Schapiro, Roy De Forest, George McNeil, Kenneth Noland, and Joe Sam. The nonprofit project is funded by grants from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
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Bulebosh says she thinks the Streetfare Journal has become "a popular attraction in other cities and is starting to catch on here in Phoenix." In fact, she notes that placards have been liberated from buses "by people who are into collecting the series."
"We've even gotten requests from patrons to mail new editions of Streetfare directly to their homes," she says. "Right now I'm looking at a stack of 600 new copies of the journal that will be seen on buses shortly."
Transit officials have welcomed the placards, she says, hoping to increase ridership by making the available ad space "more attractive and passenger oriented."
Speaking of captive audiences, Bulebosh notes that extra sets of the Streetfare Journal placards are about to be distributed to prisons around the country.