The genesis of a film
Herb Martin is “the real deal.” That’s how his wife, Sue, puts it. We agree. As poet, scholar, and performer, he brings to his audiences a precious gift: himself–unadorned, humble, and eager to give his best. Those various audiences might include several generations of students, his friends (many of long standing but not suffering), fans of the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar, or Langston Hughes, or William Shakespeare…or Herbert Woodward Martin, and packed houses of theaters and concert halls. He has trod the boards, but not bored the trads. His poems are fresh, pointed, well conceived and executed…and widely published. As a performer, he brings great presence and joy (maybe it’s glee?) to the stage.
As the producer of the film Jump Back Honey! The Poetry and Performance of Herbert Woodward Martin, I came at this project eager to see it through. I first came across Herb Martin when he visited Central Michigan University. I was a graduate student and the first producer at the local Public Radio station. Of course he came into view, welcomed and endorsed as he was by one of my professors: Ron Primeau. Ron first introduced his poems to us and then, laterally, introduced the poet himself. Ron’s outreach met my interest and the acquaintance grew beyond the classroom to both the stage in various venues at the university and the radio station, WCMU-FM. I remember doing an interview program with Herb. What I remember most about it was his graciousness. He had and still has the ability to put people at ease, to hear them at a deeper than normal level, and to care about them. Certainly his poetry was at the center of our talk, but he left an impression that stayed with me for thirty-plus years. Maybe three or four years ago I talked with Ron Primeau about the possibility of doing this project. Ron was excited by the idea but wanted first to learn something about film making. So, we started with a warm-up project about another scholar who had founded the Society for the Study of Midwest Literature, Dr. Dave Anderson. The project was fairly straightforward: a single interview with Dave about the SSML and its growth through the years. Ron LIKED the process, so when we finished that, we launched on seeking some underwriting to get this far more complicated project off the ground. We are grateful that the Ohio Humanities Council and the University of Dayton (Herb’s academic home for more than 30 years) stepped up to help us get started. The result is an almost-90-minute flick. A film demands a lot of time; this process has stretched over a year. Through it all, I have had the opportunity to see again and again just why it was that I found Herb so very captivating. I think it’s something to do with the uncommon mix of generous amounts of talent, application, and humility. I like him even better and more at the end of this project than at the beginning (that was already a lot).
So, we’ll tell you a lot about the film, give you a chance to watch a sample, have the opportunity to order it on line, maybe buy Herb’s latest collection, or Ron Primeau’s book about Herb.
But we wanted more for you than just that. Beyond the film, we wanted to create a teaching aid and a research tool for those who want to know more about Dr. Martin, Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Black Arts Movement, and a generation of poets who revitalized the art.
We hope that you’ll leave your comments here, too, for Dr. Martin. Maybe you were a student, or perhaps you’ve attended a Dunbar event, or you’ve read the poetry of Herbert Woodward Martin. Why don’t you tell us (at the electronic festschrift) if YOU think he’s the real deal?
David B. Schock, Producer