Friday, September 13, 2019

The Real Thing: Poets in Orleans (Video)

Posted By on Fri, Sep 13, 2019 at 6:59 PM

As we listened to the three poets spin their webs last weekend in Orleans, it was easy to fall into a trance. I glanced around at the 50 people who filled the room at the Mid Klamath Watershed Council, arranged in its community events incarnation. The poets had all of us hypnotized.

The three of them — Jerry Martien from Lost River, Shaunna McCovey from downriver along the Klamath and Brian Tripp from Orleans — were all veterans at the craft of spellbind.
click to enlarge Poet Jerry Martien reads. - PHOTO BY ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Photo by Zach Lathouris
  • Poet Jerry Martien reads.
Some part of me strayed back to the teachers who tried to teach us poetry when I was in high school. This was a long time ago, before the invention of computers, even before the advent of ballpoint pens. Those classes made poetry, even the good stuff, hard to swallow.

What changed me was a working-class bar in Santa Cruz in the mid-1970s. The crowd there was an unlikely mix of Viet Nam vets and farmworkers, bikers and students deserting their homework. It was not an effete milieu. But one at a time someone would get up from their circle of friends and deliver a couple of their own poems. And I suddenly got it for poetry; it is an art form best served by listening, not reading in print. (See and listen for yourself in the video below.)

click to enlarge Poet Shaunna McCovey reads her work. - PHOTO BY ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Photo by Zach Lathouris
  • Poet Shaunna McCovey reads her work.

Martien has delighted us at readings in Orleans for years and this year he had a special agenda. He explained that he’d written about working as a carpenter decades ago remodeling a house in Pecwan and one of the kids in the household was Shaunna McCovey. Ten or 15 years later, Martien explained, she showed up at a reading and announced, “I’m the little girl in the poem.” This weekend in Orleans, McCovey, who has become an accomplished poet in her own right, was the second reader on the bill. She’s also grown up to be deputy CEO of the Trinidad Rancheria.

Her poems are set along the river and she confessed to the Orleans crowd that the house Martien had repaired so long ago had fallen down again, but that she’s still the girl who wants to “know how and wants to know the reason why,” paraphrasing the line in the old poem Martien had just about her.
click to enlarge Poet and artist Brian Tripp outside the community center. - PHOTO BY ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Photo by Zach Lathouris
  • Poet and artist Brian Tripp outside the community center.
Brian Tripp was the final poet to present and he had an entirely different approach. He’d begin a casual narrative, then switch to lines that rhymed, then start playing his square drum and singing as song from Native ceremony. Then, just as smoothly, he’d be plain talking. His father, he explained, came from Katimiin, the Karuk village site near where the Salmon River joins the Klamath, and his mother came from Eyck’s just a little downriver.
click to enlarge Brian Tripp reads poems before picking up his square drum. - PHOTO BY ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Photo by Zach Lathouris
  • Brian Tripp reads poems before picking up his square drum.
As Tripp spoke, he searched through his book of writings and drawings, but never stopped his careful, persuasive riff, sometimes in rhyme, sometimes in song, with the drumbeat adding its own voice. When he’d switch to Karuk language, I still felt like I understood. Could that be?
There is a temptation to cite a catchy line here, a stanza there, but I’m still too much in the thrall of the genuine poets in their own voices. It’s fine in print, of course, but poets reading aloud is the real thing.

Happily, my editors at the North Coast Journal sent Zach Lathouris, their in-house videographer, to capture the evening and share some of it here. And if any of the three — Martien, McCovey or Tripp — read their work anywhere you can get to, don’t miss it. Or any poet who reads aloud.
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About The Author

Malcolm Terence

Malcolm Terence is an editor, along with Susan Keese and Don Monkerud, of Free Land, Free Love, Tales of a Wilderness Commune. He is a frequent contributor to California Teacher and EcoNews. Before he moved to the Black Bear commune in 1968, he was a newspaper writer in Los Angeles. For other insights into the... more

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