Contest will judge poetry and thus give an artsy nudge to patrons on the bus

Posted: Monday, November 07, 2005

A Juneau writer has resurrected the city's bus-poetry project and hopes to compile enough submissions to fill 24 11-by-17-inch city bus placard slots with short verse by early next year.

Kristan Hutchison, a former Juneau Empire reporter, was inspired to create "Poetry Omnibus" by the 13-year-old Poetry on the Buses program on King Country Metro buses in the Seattle-area. New York City, London and Quebec are a few of the cities that have similar projects.

"I've enjoyed seeing poetry in buses on other places where I've been, particularly Seattle, and it seemed like a very simple thing to do," Hutchison said.

"We are not making stipulations about what the content is," she said. "People can write about Juneau, Alaska or an experience they had in Mexico eight years ago. If I'm riding a bus, sometimes I want to be reading about someplace else.

All poems must be 10 lines or less, and for now, the contest is restricted to Juneau residents, of any age and experience. The deadline for entries is Dec. 31.

Entry forms can be found on Capital Transit buses, all branches of the Juneau Public Libraries and eventually, online at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council Web site,

"The most important requirement is length, but it's really amazing what can be done in 10 lines or less," Hutchison said.

The submissions will be judged by a panel of distinguished Alaska poets: Jerah Chadwick, of Unalaska; Anne Hanley, Fairbanks; Tom Sexton, Anchorage; and Richard and Nora Dauenhauer, Juneau.

Depending on the number of entries, at least 24 poems will be chosen for slots on Capital Transit's 12-bus fleet. Juneau Public Library director Carol Race will host a public reading and reception for the winners.

Hutchison is paying for the program but hopes to find sponsors and grants in the future.

"If we get a lot of entries and the judges come back to us and say, 'We couldn't trim it to 24,' then maybe we'll put up 24 and take them down and put up the next 24," Hutchison said.

A collection of six poems by Chadwick, Hanley and Sexton will go on display this week on Capital Transit buses, as a means of inspiring contest entries.

Juneau residents Dee Longenbaugh and Ken Melville started a similar bus poetry program in early 2004. A handful of poems were displayed on Capital Transit buses, but the project fizzled after a few months.

Hutchison hopes Poetry OmniBus will become an annual contest, like Seattle's.

She also wants the program to spread into the schools. She's created a special entry form, with curriculum suggestions, for classrooms. She also plans to work with teachers to run poetry mini-workshops.

"I was introduced to poetry when I was in the third or fourth grade by a poet coming to my school and explaining to me that I didn't have to rhyme," Hutchison said.

At least one instructor, Harborview Elementary third-and-fourth-grade teacher Sarah Oldfield, has already expressed interest.

"It's an opportunity for students to be connected to the community and see that the work that they're doing in school is having an effect on their community," Oldfield said.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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