The genesis of a film

This 90-minute film highlights Herb’s poetry but begins with an understanding of America’s first Black superstar poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Along the way we learn of the Black Arts Movement, and a generation of poets who revitalized the art. The film includes interviews with Herb, Sue Martin, their granddaughters, Dayton artist Bing Davis, poet/publisher Naomi Long Madgett, and Nikki Giovanni. In addition, there are early video examples of Herb’s poems and even audio of Margaret Walker Alexander reading from a dialect poem of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Herb’s books of poetry include: New York and the Nine Million (1970), The Shit Storm Poems (1973), Persistence of the Flesh (1976), Form of Silence (1980), The Log of the Vigilante (2003), Escape To the Promised Land: Poems (2005), Inscribing My Name: Selected Poems: New, Used, and Repossessed (2007), and On the Flyleaf: Poems (2013). His books about Dunbar include: Paul Lawrence Dunbar, A Singer of Songs (1979), Dunbar: Suns and Dominions (1999), In His Own Voice: The Dramatic and Other Uncollected Works of Paul Lawrence Dunbar (2002), Selected Poems (2004), and The Collected Novels of Paul Laurence Dunbar (2012). And this book is about him: Herbert Woodward Martin and the African American Tradition of Poetry, by Ron Primeau (2004).

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.  Readers and listeners 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. His poems are fresh, pointed, well conceived and executed…and widely published. As a performer, he has trod the boards, but not bored the trads. In sum, he has packed theaters and concert halls bringing great presence and joy 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 ten years ago I talked with Ron Primeau about the possibility of doing this project.  Ron was excited by the idea and liked the process of filmmaking. 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. This is the result of several years of work.

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 Harlem Renaissance, 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