Oregon poet combines life, music and verse

(Top) Starck performs a reprise of his poetry April 7 in the Nicholson Library. Katie Paysinger/Senior photographer

(Top) Starck performs a reprise of his poetry April 7 in the Nicholson Library. Katie Paysinger/Senior photographer

An audience of Linfield students, faculty and staff welcomed a performance by poet Clem Starck and musicians Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman on April 7.

The event was co-sponsored by the Theatre and Communication Arts Department, the Department of English and Nicholson Library and took place at 7:30 p.m. in the Austin Reading Room in the Nicholson Library.

Starck has made his living as a carpenter and construction foreman. He has also worked as a ranch hand in Eastern Oregon, a merchant seaman, a newspaper reporter on Wall Street and a door-to-door salesman.

“I write about my life, my experience, what it is to be alive on the planet, what that means, what I’ve seen and experienced,” Starck said.

The poems that Starck read ranged in topic from fixing a car to contemplating a name written in a still-wet sidewalk in 1917. His imagery of machines and construction conveyed the themes of work and rest.

The accompanying music set the mood of each poem. Along with the guitar and the harmonica, the musicians played a few novel instruments such as an iron triangle, wind chimes, a typewriter and the wet rim of a wineglass.

Starck began writing at age 21, although he was always interested in writing. He says he started writing poetry because it seemed easier than writing a novel.

“I was always a bit of a bookworm as a kid,” he said. “I loved to read, and thought I would like to write. I thought maybe I could use poetry as a stepping-stone to writing novels. But I got hooked on poetry, and I’ve been writing poetry for over 50 years.”

His collection of work, “Journeyman’s Wages,” won the Oregon Book Award and the William Stafford Memorial Poetry Award. He is the author of four books of poetry.

He said he does not have any background as a musician and normally does solo poetry readings. Combining poetry and music in this fashion is an unusual event for him, he said.

“I got to know Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman at a gathering in Astoria for fisherman poets, poets who write about work, like I do. We decided to make a CD, and it turned out pretty well, so we did a live performance on the coast last year,” Starck said.

Brenda DeVore Marshall, department chair and professor of Theatre and Communication Arts, was in the audience during the performance. She asked the trio to perform at Linfield — an ironic coincidence considering the fact that Starck and Broderick first met on the Linfield campus during a weekend convocation for high school students.

“Jon Broderick saw that my poems were about carpentry and about working. He knew a lot of fishermen who also wrote about work, and he more or less set up the Fisher Poets in Astoria. So performing at Linfield feels like I’ve come full circle,” Starck said.

Sharon Gollery/For the Review
Sharon Gollery can be reached at linfieldreviewculture@gmail.com.

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