Comet bus passengers get a ride – and a poetry reading –in Columbia – The State

Passengers on The Comet’s 101 North Main route found themselves in the middle of an unexpected performance Sunday, as local poets read their work aloud throughout the ride.

This poetry reading marked Ed Madden’s first public project as Columbia’s first poet laureate – a position he accepted in January. Madden partnered with The Comet and One Columbia for Arts and History to make the event happen.

“One of the things the folks at One Columbia asked me to do is think about ways of making literary arts public arts projects as well,” Madden said while riding along Sunday. “They have lots of public arts projects – sculpture, music and things like that – but my job is to promote the literary arts.”

The inspiration for the project came from seeing poems on public transportation in major cities like New York, Dublin, London and Washington, D.C., Madden said, adding it’s the first time this type of project has been done in Columbia.

Almost 90 writers submitted more than 200 poems for the project, which Madden and a committee of other poets narrowed down to 51 poems from 45 writers. Seven of the writers are middle school students in Richland and Lexington counties, according to a news release about the event.

The first poet to share her work Sunday –a poem about a turtle sunning itself – was Jennifer Bartell, who studied under Madden at the University of South Carolina.

“I’d do anything to support Ed Madden,” Bartell said. “He does so much for the arts and for poetry in the city of Columbia. So when he put out the call, I was like, ‘OK, Columbia, I’m going to do a turtle poem.’”

Despite a persistent drizzle throughout the day, about 10 local writers turned out to share their work with anyone riding the 101 North Main route between 3:30 and 5 p.m. More poets turned out afterward to share their work at the Tapp’s Art Center until 6 p.m.

Passenger reactions to the performance were varied. Some huddled far in the back of the bus, avoiding the poets clustered up front. Others sat down right in the middle, seeming to watch and listen intently.

“Whatever you guys are doing, don’t stop,” one man told the poets as he exited the bus.

After all the poets had read their submissions – and some had performed additional pieces – Madden announced “rivers” as the theme for another poetry reading on The Comet slated for next year.

Tiffany James, community outreach coordinator for The Comet, said she thinks the poetry readings will give folks something to look forward to on public transportation, adding she hopes Madden will organize another reading soon.

“I hope that having projects like this will help make transit sexy – that it will bring people to riding the buses and leaving their car keys at home,” James said.