Like a vision of the night bus out of the Harry Potter novels, the vintage red double-decker Poetry Bus collected poets and passengers, who circled up the narrow staircase to the open-air rooftop to enjoy a surprisingly warm November evening as they cruised towards the first poetry destination.
The Poetry Bus was a Vegas first and a highlight of this year’s Vegas Valley Book Festival. After a brief introduction and a haiku reading by Mayor Oscar Goodman and local poet Dayvid Figler, host Jarret Keene took the helm of the Poetry Bus. The 30-plus passengers chuckled at his running commentary and informal tour, covering such unusual points of interest as the bail-bond joints dotting Commerce Street, the Rainbow Feather Company and Talk of the Town strip club. Passing through the heart of First Friday, passengers hooted and yelled, “This is the Poetry Bus!”
Keene was first up to read, at the Clark County Government Center, and his words echoed among the literary artifacts of the Inscribed Messages exhibit still on display. In keeping with the location, he chose poems about reading books, with the final poem about a book being read as the world ends and the sun sets for the final time: “cotton-ball cloud dabbing/the sky’s slashed wrists.”
UNLV professor Donald Revell, surrounded by the comic book art of the exhibit Drunk at Atomic Todd gallery, laughed: “Since this is like an artistic AA meeting, I’ll start with a poem called ‘My Name is Donald,’” and the gathered crowd fell silent as he read the metaphysical first line: “Like a fish on a hedge, the horsefly lands on my wife’s lipstick/That’s sobriety/That is the end of my hayride with oblivion ...”
At the Fallout Gallery, UNLV creative writing director Claudia Keelan’s fragmented, lyrical writing style—with themes spanning from Sen. Harry Reid to the Virgin Mary—paired well with artist Justin Crabtree’s system sculptures (including a large pile of suitcases and a miniature sandstone mountain), which describe “movement from order to disorder.”
Back on the PB, Keene announced the next stop was a “mystery gallery” not listed on the itinerary. Curiosity built until it arrived at the Casa De La Cultura Hispanoamericana (CAXCULTHI). Poet and CAXCULTHI member Elizabeth Quiñones stirred the audience with her vivid, organic poetry, starting with a poem titled “Salt.”
Next up: the Contemporary Arts Center. Enveloped by artist Danielle Kelly’s playful suspended jungle of stuffed yellow fabric sculptures, poet Keith Brantley recited from memory, with a soulful R&B flair, a selection of his jazz- and Vegas-inspired lyrics. Arts Factory patrons stopped, captivated by Brantley’s rendition of his poem “Fly Like Bird,” inspired by jazz great Charlie Parker.
A few doors down, at Trifecta Gallery, backdropped by artist Eric Joyner’s painting of a robot astride a motorcycle over a chocolate-sprinkled doughnut cliff top, Jeff Grindley stood atop a chair to read, starting with a poem that used the words “think” and “drink” interchangeably.
The last stop for the PB was Dino’s. Josh Kryah played a karaoke surprise on unsuspecting patrons when he got onstage and instead of singing began relating his childhood tales of inspiration and poetry. The DJ explained to the crowd that the VVBF was in their midst, and, after a moment of confusion, they clapped in approval. Bounding to the stage, Keene grabbed the mic and exclaimed, “Let’s give it up for the strange red bus! Let’s hear it for the Vegas Valley Book Festival!”