Offbeat, Irreverent, and DIY: The Poetry of Mass Transit

Photo detail of a newspaper clipping with the caption:

A 1973 Washington Post article profiling Mass Transit and Some of Us Press. Box 11, Folder 6, Terence Winch papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

For many of us, the political protest, music, and fashion of the 1960s and 1970s are the most recognizable aspects of the countercultural revolution. But the literature of that era can provide a window into that movement’s values, its struggles, and the society it was trying to create.

In the early 1970s, a group of poets in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. began meeting over the Community Book Shop. They would eventually become known as “Mass Transit” or the “Dupont Circle School.” This group included writers Terence Winch (whose papers we hold), Ed Cox, Michael Lally, Tim Dlugos, Tina Darragh, and Doug Lang. They created a magazine, also titled Mass Transit, with a rotating editorship. Among the early contributors to Mass Transit was the future actress Karen Allen, of Indiana Jones fame, who befriended Terence Winch and others in the circle when she attended readings as an aspiring writer.

The first five issues of

Five issues of the Mass Transit magazine. Mass Transit, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Mass Transit was reflective of the wider counterculture sensibilities of the 1970s, but also had its own distinctive style. Flyers advertising readings and other events show the personality and sense of style of the group clearly: they were offbeat, irreverent, and DIY. The group attracted a diverse and politically-aware membership, engaging in conversations about civil rights, gay rights, gender equality, and activism.

 

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Flyers advertising readings at the Community Book Shop, Folio Books, and the Pyramid Gallery. Box 10, Folder 4, Terence Winch papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

After the Community Book Shop closed in 1974, the attendees of Mass Transit met for readings and discussion in other locations in the metro area, including the Pyramid Gallery and Folio Books. Several members of the circle started up their own presses, including Some of Us Press, founded by Michael Lally, Terence Winch, Lee Lally, Ed Cox, and Ed Zahniser; O Press, founded by Michael Lally; and Jawbone, founded by Doug Lang.

Recordings of Mass Transit poetry readings on cassette

Recordings of poetry readings from the 1970s and 1980s. Box 30, Terence Winch papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

As the 1980s wore on, the group gradually dispersed as venues closed, members moved away,   and interests shifted. But many of the poets associated with Mass Transit remained close friends and collaborators after the movement ended, producing new projects together and supporting each others’ work. In the late 1980s, some of the former members of the circle reunited for a reading, and many of them have gone on to have extensive writing careers.

To learn more about Mass Transit, visit the Burns Library and request to view the newly available Terence Winch papers (read the finding aid). The library also holds a collection of Mass Transit-related publications.

  • Annalisa Moretti, Archives Assistant

 

List of works consulted

Darragh, Tina. Survey responses, DC Poets History Project, accessed February 20, 2019. http://www.dcpoetry.com/history/darragh

Retallack, Joan. “About Mass Transit: The Dupont Circle Circle,” Washington Review, 14.2, August/September 1988. DC Poets History Project, accessed February 20, 2019. http://www.dcpoetry.com/history/retallack

Swisher, Kara. “Mass Transit, Poetry Notions,” Washington Post, August 8, 1988. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1988/08/08/mass-transit-poetry-notions/badb43ec-7bed-4eb7-96e1-edd3242e8089/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0ddec817b15d

Williams, Christian. “The Lady of the Lost Ark,” Washington Post, July 20, 1981. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1981/07/20/the-lady-of-the-lost-ark/fed74cbb-4a29-4cb8-880a-04448d0a9add/?utm_term=.d564e8d8470a

Winch, Terence. Survey responses, DC Poets History Project, accessed February 20, 2019. http://www.dcpoetry.com/history/winch

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

Located in the original Bapst Library building on Boston College's Chestnut Hill campus, the John J. Burns Library offers students, scholars, and the general public opportunities to engage with rare books, special collections, and archives.
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2 Responses to Offbeat, Irreverent, and DIY: The Poetry of Mass Transit

  1. Pingback: Offbeat, Irreverent, and DIY: The Poetry of Mass Transit – Under the Counterculture

  2. Pingback: Mass Transit/Some of Us Press | literarydc

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