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.
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