The Bus Driver’s Threnody

Michael Spence


The Bus Driver’s Threnody brings to poetic life a world literally in transit: the movement of people along its roads and highways facilitated by public transit and the drivers who steer their buses.

“The Night Driver reads The Night Driver by John Cork”

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The Bus Driver’s Threnody brings to poetic life a world literally in transit: the movement of people along its roads and highways facilitated by public transit and the drivers who steer their buses. Focusing on the separate world-within-a-world of the bus—with relationships among riders, between drivers and riders, and between the bus and other vehicles that share the road—these poems give weight and substance to a segment of the everyday that is largely ignored. Within that separate world, this book brings to light (and dark) the depths and complexities of metropolitan living through this seemingly prosaic facet of modern American life.

This is lyric-narrative at its best. There is no poem in this collection that cannot be praised in its own right. But the work as a whole gives an even greater satisfaction as the bus driver’s vehicle with its multitude of foils and fools opens fully for the reader. This is not just a good collection of poetry; rather, it is a prime example of the excellence that a book of contemporary poetry should be, with its insistence on form and substance working together to bring forth an object of art.

—Jim Barnes

When most of his generation, myself included, sought a career in the academy in order to allow them the freedom to write poetry, Michael Spence chose, as he declares in “Training Wheels,” the first poem in this unique volume, work as a metro bus driver in Seattle, Washington, “Manual as the steering and the brakes, / The kind of job that wouldn’t drown the spark / … / In my mind I needed to write.” It is a statement of principle that Spence has held to throughout his career as a poet. Much has been said about the difference between the academy and the real world. In Michael Spence, we have one of our few poets who is genuinely of the latter. On his bus we may see America in a truer, more democratic light than from the ramparts of the ivory tower.

—Mark Jarman, author of Bone Fires:
New and Selected Poems

Stevens had his insurance company, Eliot had his bank, Bukowski had his post office, and Michael Spence has his municipal bus. There is much to be said for a poet making a life outside of the hothouse of the academy, testing his thoughts and sensations on the real world, and these same thoughts people his little world, as someone once said, along with the people themselves—marked by their idiosyncratic speech and poignant quirks. Spence crams more life onto his bus then most novelists can get into their doorstop chronicles, and all with concision, dramatic verve, wit, and deep feeling. Through Spence’s special alchemy, life behind the wheel becomes life itself—sprightly, various, resonant, and profound.

—David Yezzi, author of Birds of the Air


Training Wheels
Driving a Bus in Winter
Alien in Allentown
It Started Out with Edgar Allan Poe
The Nine-­Pocket Macarena
The Free Zone
Blood Tie
Jake on Wheels
Wheels within Wheels
The Pumpkin Tower
Myrtle Talks
The White Bus
Twin Lakes in the Fog
Department of Storms…
Perfect Attendance
The Driver Contemplates His Choice
Lost on the Bus
Just a Vessel
The Last Stop in Golden Gardens
A Benediction for the Bus
The Development
Letter of Condolence
What He Knows
The Bus Driver’s Threnody
And Don’t Forget the Fruit
Turn in the Direction of the Skid
Home for the Holidays
A Rainbow in My Pocket
Emissaries of the Sunless Hours
Riders in the Dark
The Night Driver
The Night Driver Reads…
The Night Driver Shifts to Days
About the Author


Michael Spence spent a hitch as a junior naval officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), then returned to Seattle, where he spent thirty years driving public-transit buses in the Seattle area. He has three poetry collections: The Spine (Purdue University Press, 1087), Adam Chooses (Rose Alley Press, 1998), and Crush Depth (Truman State University Press, 2009). The Bus Driver’s Threnody was a finalist for The New Criterion Poetry Prize. In 1990, Spence was awarded a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he has received half a dozen nominations for a Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in many magazines, including The American Scholar, The Chariton Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Hopkins Review, The Hudson Review, Literary Imagination, Measure, The New Criterion, The New Republic, The North American Review, Poetry, Poetry Northeast, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review, Tampa Review, Tar River Poetry, and The Yale Review.



The Bus Driver’s Threnody is an excellent read for anyone who enjoys skillfully written poetry, and for readers who might enjoy a few different ways to think about the people who drive Seattle’s buses.

—Susan Storer Clark, Real Change News, November 4, 2015

The Bus Driver Who Was a Poet

Evastina Bender, Västerbotten Courier, June 2015

Spence is adept at creating such characters, full of contradictions and nuance...a master of concise dramatic vignettes: between riders, between rider and driver and among drivers.

Hudson Review, Spring 2015

A delicious, exultant threnody.  Read this book!

—Vince Gotera, North American Review, Spring 2015

Poetry in Motion: Tales of life and death aboard Metro buses

Laura Kaufman, Crosscut, September 9, 2014

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