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Poetry and Station Wagons: What Happens When Books Hit the Streets

Derek Attig

Staff Writer

Derek works in graduate student career development and is (believe it or not) one of the world's foremost experts on the history of bookmobiles. Follow Derek on Twitter @bookmobility and on Instagram @bookmobility.

Jeremiah Walton, issuing an exhortation---with two rats,

Jeremiah Walton, issuing an exhortation—with two rats. From the Books & Shovels IndieGoGo campaign.

Jeremiah Walton wants to “give art a good kick in the balls.” He wants to inspire us all to shout, at the top of our lungs, “I AM EXCITED TO BE ALIVE!  I AM NOT AFRAID TO MAKE SACRIFICES TO ACCOMPLISH MY DREAMS!” He wants to “encourage others to be willing to cut themselves open for what they love.” And he’s going to do it all with a station wagon full of books.

Even for an artsy IndieGoGo campaign, Walton’s—for the Books & Shovels traveling poetry bookstore—is painfully earnest. He wants to take an old station wagon, outfit it with shelves, fill it with chapbooks, then sell them while busking at festivals, street fairs, and open mic nights. The campaign is full of dramatic exhortations (“You can smash concrete with your tongue,“ “The Virus is silence,” “[I]t’s time to split lightening in two,” “It’s time to hit the streets,” “Live your passion,” “We will be loud”) and big dreams. It lacks even a teaspoon of cynicism. It’s entirely uninfected by the hedging hesitance of age. (No wonder; Walton has been out of high school all of a year.) It’s going to take poetry on the road, and that will change the world.

It’s enough to make you roll your eyes, maybe, but it should also make you smile. And not only because more poetry in more hands is probably a good thing. The campaign is smile-worthy because, despite claims to groundbreaking newness, Books & Shovels is actually part of a long and storied tradition. Indeed, this sort of charming, sometimes ridiculous optimism is what happens whenever you put books on wheels.

When books hit the streets, wild dreams usually aren't far behind.

When books hit the streets, wild dreams usually tag along. From the Books & Shovels IndieGoGo campaign.

Maybe it’s the romance of the open road, or the prospect of literally searching out new readers, or the (seeming) novelty of the thing, or that bookmobiles tend to look really awesome. From the earliest bookmobiles to the Miracle Bookmobile, from the packhorse libraries of Kentucky to the Billy Pilgrim Traveling Library, librarians and artists and activists have been convinced that when you combine books and mobility, you’re going to do something great. A nation of readers, a vibrant queer arts community, a spike in literacy, a city brought together by books—whatever books on wheels bring, it will shock and amaze and thrill and transform.

So roll your eyes, and smile–whether you open your wallets or not—because Jeremiah Walton is the newest member of the Fraternal Order of Packing Books into Vehicles and Dreaming Big. And that’s a group that could always stand to grow.