Tone is the mood or emotion a poem evokes in a reader.
The tone of "Poetry Should Ride the Bus" is more complex than it looks at first glance. The poem, in fact, has two tones. The major or dominant tone is light-hearted, joyful, childlike, and sometimes funny, while the minor tone is somber and serious.
The light-hearted tone of the poem is conveyed in light, bright, silly images, such as the idea that poetry should "hopscotch in a polka dot dress" and "wear bright red lipstick / n practice kisses in the mirror." The lighthearted tone is reinforced by the informal "n" used throughout the poem for the more formal word "and." It could be read as if a child or teenager is telling this part of the poem.
The light-hearted tone continues with homey images of how poetry should be part of the fabric of everyday life. Poetry should
every now n then to sit on the porch
and talk about the comins and goins of the world
It is comfortable to imagine sitting on a porch talking with poetry. The dropped "g"s from "comins" and "goins" also portray African American Vernacular English and reflect the familiar, casual mood of the poem.
The lighthearted imagery Forman uses can even be tacky, and if you listen to her read the poem, you will hear the audience laugh at poetry being carried in a "Safeway bag between the greens n chicken wings" or dropping in to look at a photo album on "a orange plastic covered La-Z-Boy."
Yet alongside the major tone describing poetry as an everyday pleasure, a more serious tone emerges in the use of grimmer images, showing that poetry reflects both the good and bad in life, both the light-hearted and the serious. As the poem shows, the joyful and the grim often live side by side. Grimmer images include "the yellow crackhouse."
The more joyful tone, however, emerges at the end and merges with the more serious to imagine "red revolution love songs" that bring hope and poems that "whisper electric blue magic" to us. Poetry is serious when it talks of revolution or soul. The dominant light-hearted tone is, however, conveyed through the bright, childlike colors "red" and "blue," and though the words "love" and "magic." Finally, the poem ends with a happy, upbeat tone on the word "smile."