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Eco-Poets take the stage

Three poets read for national poetry month at Northtown Books

As climate change and loss of natural landscapes increase every year, what else is there to do but write poetry about it?

Humboldt County poet laureate Jerry Martien was joined by Kirk Lumpkin and Vinnie Peloso for a night of poetry at Northtown Books during Arcata Arts Alive. These poets were three of 149 contributors to “Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California,” an anthology of poetry dedicated to California’s ecology.

“All the proceeds and profits of this book goes to environmental organizations,” Peloso said to the crowd of eager listeners.

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Poet Vinnie Peloso reads from “Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California” during Arcata Arts Alive poetry reading at Northtown Books on Friday April 12. | Photo by T. William Wallin

Peloso’s poems are in a section called “Coastal Redwoods” which he said was ironic because he grew up in “the wilds of New Jersey.” Peloso proceeded to tell the crowd of his first experience with a redwood tree.

He was driving in New Jersey toward what he thought was a redwood tree and the closer he got, the more and more he was convinced it was a redwood tree.

“I realized it wasn’t a redwood tree,” Peloso said. “It wasn’t even a tree at all. It was a cell phone tower.”

The first poem Peloso read was “Wounded.” This poem was written 25 years ago and revised 22 times before it was published in this anthology. Although Peloso is a published poet he acknowledged that poems must be revised from time to time.

His poem begins with walking in the old grove redwoods that make up the Arcata Community Forest. The narrator of the poem observes felled trees among younger trees and says of the scene it makes “it harder to meet these trees unwounded”.

Our very own poet laureate, Jerry Martien, was the closing poet to end the night. Martien said the other two poets were “stalwarts of poetry” and for many years held down the poetry series at the local Jambalaya Club.

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Humboldt County poet laureate, Jerry Martien, reads his poem “In the Pines” during Arcata Arts Alive at Northtown Books on Friday April 12, 2019. T.William Wallin

He even made a quick quip towards the recent shutting down of KHSU by saying the two poets held reading series for the local radio station but “I don’t even remember what its called anymore.” Martien read three end-of-summer love poems from lament to early spring.

“Willow along the trail, beginning to yellow, dry sand on the dune face refusing to hold,” began Martien’s first poem, called “In the Pines.” “Each grain separate and distinct, wanting to be part of the whole again.”

Between each pause Martien sets a visionary scene of environment while simultaneously expressing the contemplations that come with the end of the summer season. “In the Pines” is set as a walk through the Manila Dunes. The coastal forest landscape comes to life and the listener can smell the salty sea air of the Pacific. Martien’s second poem is a journey East outside of Humboldt County, “when the rain finally stopped,” sometime after spring.

“At the summit of the coast range fog stops, we go out of Mad River drainage down into Redwood Creek, up again to Willow Creek to follow Trinity,” begins Martien’s poem “Losing the Lines.” “Cross over to another country, so long salt, greetings mountain air.”

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Poet Kirk Lumpkin reads an ode to poison oak during Arcata Arts Alive poetry reading at Northtown Books on Friday April 12. | Photo by T. William Wallin

The real stealer of the show was Kirk Lumpkin of Mendocino County. Because he traveled such a far distance he was given more time than the other two poets, which was needed for a costume change. Lumpkin read a couple of poems then dragged a box towards the stage. Tucked inside were two bird suits, beak and all.

Lumpkin took on the persona of a Blue Jay and a Steller’s Jay. But purposely dropped off the apostrophe that follows Steller when introducing his alter-ego.

Lumpkin rapped as MC Steller and MC Blue Jay in the full-body bird costumes and made the performance interactive by having the audience make bird sounds during the chorus.

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Poet Kirk Lumpkin as MC blue jay during Arcata Arts Alive poetry reading at Northtown Books on Friday April 12, 2019. | Photo by T.William Wallin

Every patron of the poetry reading was cawing, “Vreep,” and dipping in their seats, becoming one with Lumpkin’s poetry raps.

Moments like these might be seen as odd elsewhere, but are the missing ingredients that sets Humboldt apart as a unique location in Calif.

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