Who is John Martin?
In the early 1970s, he was a young poet. “I started (writing) in college, and I’m not sure why. It was a challenge for me,” says Martin, who will read along with three other Bend poets Thursday at Camalli Book Company (see “If you go,” Page D8).
After graduating in 1974 with a degree in English lit from Immaculate Heart College, a defunct liberal arts school in Los Angeles, he continued to write poetry for a few more years. After “very slight success” — a couple of poems published in small journals — he hung up his pen and picked up gardening tools, becoming a landscaper.
“That’s what I have done for a living since then,” says Martin, 56.
Then, in the mid-’90s, after decades of writing little more than business letters, he found himself again writing poetry.
And once again, he’s unsure why.
“Maybe I was trying to understand my relationship to my daughter,” Martin says. He wrote about his role and responsibilities as a father, and the painful fact that, over time, inevitably, their relationship would change. “I found myself trying to figure out my life through words again.”
Martin wrote fiction at first — short stories and a novella — “none of which ever got published,” he says, chuckling.
A return to poetry
After about four years, he returned to poetry, although with a vestige of prose intact.
“Somebody who encountered one of my poems would probably be more likely to understand it on just a literal level than they might a lot of other poems, you know, modern poems that get published. I do try and keep that baseline of — ”
“Comprehensibility?” we inter- ject.
“Comprehensibility, yeah. And even more than that, you know, a bit of prosiness. I write in poetic forms, and I write in some meter, and sometimes I use some rhyme, but I basically try to stick to a word-feeling that is prosaic, not too showy.”
The feelings are submerged beneath the surface, he adds.
Since returning to the poetry fold, Martin’s work has been published about a half-dozen times, although he doesn’t submit as often as he says he should. His poetry will next appear in the High Desert Journal, published in Bend.
“I’m the first audience that I write for,” he says. “I think anybody who writes words that they hope to get published is trying to get something across to people, and it’s satisfying when someone says, ‘Yeah, we want to publish what you’ve written.’
“But first of all, I’m trying to write something that makes sense to me, has meaning for me, solves a problem for me ... in some way works for me.”
This time around, his poetry is steeped in “strong physical images, often from the natural world,” he says.
He also feels he’s more successful now than in his 20s, when “I was trying to take complex ideas that often were somewhat divorced from images from the real world, and trying to make them mean something and be something beautiful.”
Keeping it local
On Thursday, Martin will read from “The Nick of Time,” his 2006 chapbook, along with more recent poems. He and the other participating poets — Peter Lovering, Judith Montgomery and Ellen Waterston — will read shorter works, and are encouraging others to bring their poetry to read as well.
It will mark the third installment of the Third Thursday Words reading series at Camalli, which store owner Tina Davis began as a way of giving back to the community and, in a sense, of practicing what she preaches.
“Do local,” Davis says. “It’s what the local bookstores want; we want people to shop local.
“And by the same token, it’s nice to bring in the local authors, which is something that I think this Third Thursday Words allows us to do: just really support our local writing community, whether it’s poetry or short stories, prose or what have you.”
Martin says the labor involved in landscaping allows him plenty of time to think, but not at a level where he’d rush to find a pen and paper.
“I don’t find myself necessarily stewing over a line or a poem or an idea, but I think it is happening,” he says.
“My brain isn’t intricately involved in moment-to-moment decisions with what I’m doing; it’s pretty repetitive a lot of the time. I think that is kind of conducive to your brain working behind the scenes on whatever it is you’re trying to write.”
If you go
What: Third Thursday Words
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Camalli Book Company, 1288 S.W. Simpson Ave., Suite C, Bend