The poetic legacy of Rod Jellema continues to thrill and excite his readers/listeners as they respond to the weaving of the magic of his words.
When award-winning poet Rod Jellema reads his poetry, forget ever saying “I don’t like poetry, I don’t understand it.”
His impromptu poetry reading at the new Book Nook & Java Shop made believers in the glory, power, and fun use of words that can enrich our existence.
Jellema, professor of English emertius at the University of Maryland who has a home in Montague, has been writing poetry for 40 years. His nine poems recited at the Book Nook reading ranged from the most basic, including the heritage of cows that produced the milk of his Holland boyhood, to the profundity of tying Plato’s “Republic” and the concept of civilization to the discovery of how someone 9,000 years ago, took a crane’s hollow wing bone to make a flute.
You have to realize that Jellema is a superb reader of poetry. In a current world where the actual reading of just a complete sentence can be called into question, Jellema describes poetry as “it is sounds as ‘read‘ more by the ear than the eye. It is how the poet translates an idea into marks on a page that eventually mean something.”
Jellema went on to explain that in putting those marks on a page “you are skating on ice all by yourself. And a change of one word can have an impact somewhere else.”
In the nine read poems, the “ice” was very thick and solid, and all his marks meant “something.”
From his boyhood in Holland, “there were 15 dairies for only 15,000 people. I loved the sound of their names.” Hence, he wrote “Picking up a carton of milk.” The dairy names all had a romantic sound to him that just rolled off his tongue. He even included the “lineage” of the cows that produced the milk he loved so much. But all of it was in a gently rhythmic sound that turned milk into a thoughtful idyll. (Only two dairies had non-romantic names, boo.)
The second poem “Green Beans” was triggered when a prose writer said that green beans had no role in poetry. For Jellema “I said let’s see about that.” He then rolled out the most brilliant and beautiful adjectives and nouns that put the green bean into the category of ambrosia for the gods. Eating became a poetic delight: “The banquet hall of your mouth.”
In “Because I Never Learned the Names of Flowers,” the names of flowers became nouns to personify all sorts of existence, certainly a most unique view of our world.
“From Seaman Davy Owens’ Diary” (1511), Jellema translates nautical world impressions into the mystery of the individual in that world: “The stars curve us to nowhere we know.”
In his fifth reading, the fears and frustrations of early math problems are translated into “X”. That mathematical sign becomes the poetic symbol of unsolvable problems, and the fears of negative events.
The “End to the Poets’ Strike” is a serio-comedic look at what one of Jellema’s poet friends suggested: “What if the poets went on strike?” In a wildly sad-humorous poem, Jellema explores how when 6,000 poets struck, it was so badly organized, no one noticed. Further, since poets worked mostly on the night shift, who noticed that? And, of course from no production of poems, “there was a report of a shortage of rhythms. The result? “Get back to work, we poets have made them suffer enough.”
Jellema ended with “Winter Lightening”, an elegy on retirement of writing poetry, perhaps a personal reflection. He equates natural wild events, i.e. lightning strikes, to “a good year for writing,” and how the jarring of the senses change the direction of the muse. Where has the lightning gone?