Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Road to This North Coast Place

On Friday evening at Northtown Books, North Coast poet laureate Jerry Martien and virtuso bass player Shao Way Wu performed a few selections from their new CD, The Road to Heaven. Martien said that they'd been doing these performances--reading poems with string bass accompaniment-- for twenty years, and it seemed like a good and easy idea to record them. Shao Way quipped that this sounded more impressive than it was--in that time they'd only done six or eight gigs.

They performed about half the poems on the CD, including the poem that gave the CD its title, in which Martien wrote that if you're not on the road to Heaven, you're on the road to Hell. It's a road CD, since most of the poems involve travel by car.

I stood in the back awhile at Northtown and listened until my own back complained. Martien's poems are popular for good reason, Shao Way's playing is tasty. But this isn't a review. I'm writing about the event here mostly because it reminded me of just how this blog got started. It was originally going to be a book, mostly of interviews on the topic of how to be native to this North Coast place, a concept inspired by author Wes Jackson. I got a North Coast Cultural Trust grant to do it, but contrary to the figures still on its web page somewhere, I didn't get the full $5,000 grant, but half of that. So I really didn't have the funds sufficient to publish a book. I started this blog instead.

Since there was an earthquake at about that time, the interviews I used had to do mostly with that topic, and related geology and topography. And some history about the real Natives of this place. But the very first interview I attempted for this project was with Jerry Martien. I thought the poetry of place was a good place to start.

I interviewed him at his house, and we got on well--so well, it seemed, that we spent most of the time laughing. I don't think I learned much about poetry of place, and I didn't use the interview directly. But in the course of what turned out to be a rambling conversation, I did catch on to one important element of becoming native to this place, which emerged from his stories about coming here and settling in. Jerry arrived with the 60s wave of back to the land hippies and idealists, and it was a tumultous time. (The stories of shenangians at HSU in the late 60s and early 70s alone are enough to curl your hair.) But what got people involved in the community first and the most turned out to be schools, and the welfare of their children.

So that's what I learned: to become native to this place, it helps a lot to have children here, and raise them here.

Over the years I've learned that I'm never going to become native to this place, so even this blog is now a huge joke on me. I'm just not that interested in local politics, and since I don't fish or hunt or camp out or do anything outside except hike, and I don't garden, eat in restaurants, go out much more than the theatre I'm required to attend to write about it for my paltry few bucks, and I don't drive around much either (unlike Jerry M, who by the way doesn't even recognize me anymore, and has completely forgotten about our conversation.) And I don't have kids, here or anywhere. So I'm not much of a North Coast kind of person apparently. Maybe I'm not even much of an earthling.

I can't say the place has been all that welcoming anyway. Years ago, someone else who came the same year I did said, "so we're both newcomers. And we always will be." Except that she won't be, because she left. But for whatever reason, me and my work don't much interest people here, except as it can benefit them and their work. Maybe that's more of the time than the place, I don't know. But I've been anonymous here in ways I haven't been elsewhere.

So this blog has few entries, and probably shouldn't exist anymore except as an archive. But hey, it's free. I don't know if it's on the road to heaven. I doubt it. And even if it's on the road to hell, I'm trying to enjoy the journey as much as I can.