We Are the Bus by James McKean
This post was written by contributing writer Savanah Burns.
In the winter of 2011, James McKean’s We Are the Bus debuted onto the literary scene with the Texas Review Press. McKean’s hard work won TRP’s X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, an annual contest accepting submissions from poets from all over. McKean’s rich background in nonfiction and poetry, along with a hoard of life experience, shows through in his writing. He is an esteemed professor who teaches for the MFA program at Queens University Low Residency, located in North Carolina.
The reason behind the title We Are the Bus is that the collection explores what it is like to grow up in this world; that is to say, the collection wants to show the reader what it is like for someone to move on but only in passing. If the collection were a conversation, it would be a brief and casual one with a friend as you go about your day.
McKean’s collection of poetry shows off his mastery of crafting a voice that calls out, “On Board,” then whisks the reader off into the pages. The journey the reader will take is one that goes through the pains of growing up, cruising down memory lane, which can be, at times, painful. His collection travels the world, from the countryside to the city. The reader is taken from Seattle, Washington to other parts of the world, such as the private Hat Island to Mexico to Holy See to Costa Rica. Along the way, we see an array of people; the blue collar working class, our neighbors, strangers, and those closest to us. However, there’s more to this journey than observing.
On our journey, McKean has us experience our family and relationships, gains and losses, and music and faith. Each of his characters present a moment in their lives that reveals something about their identity. Often these poems focus on how life proves to be mundane and haphazard, yet McKean sifts through those times and relationships to find a meaning and purpose in what we consider a fleeting moment. The collection shows us how we pass by in this ephemeral life, how we are onlookers at other people’s lives and especially our own, and how there is something to take away from it all.
Towards the end of our ride, we realize that we are the bus because we are a vessel that moves and freely goes through life. Those willing to hop the bus will hear McKean repeatedly sing how we are travelers and how we are the public. That is not to say our ride is always a smooth ride, but that we had one. A reader filled with wanderlust will find the collection of poems a pleasant read.
Savanah Burns is a young poet from Huntsville. She studied English and History at Sam Houston State University, where she completed a short novella for her honors thesis. Her writing has been featured in Beacon, an undergraduate magazine, and HistoricalMX, an online historical journal. Her poem, “Starry Night,” won first prize in 2016 for a college and university contest held by The Academy of American Poets, which included an online publication. She is currently pursuing an M. F. A. in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry at SHSU. She is a new addition to the Texas Review Press as a graduate assistant, as well as a new addition to the Gordian Review as its poetry editor. She is excited for what lies ahead.