Article by Ed Quillen
Local Artists – November 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine
SALIDA ALREADY HAS a reputation as a place where painters, sculptors, potters, and jewelers flourish. There’s not much poetry in that mix of muses, but that will change if Jude Jannet succeeds in her mission.
Jannet, a dynamic and memorable performance poet in her own right, organized and promoted SPARROWS (Songs, Poetry and Relations Raise Our Winter Spirits) gathering and workshop in Salida this past Februrary, and she’s planning another one.
She arranges for a reasonably well-known poet (James Tipton recently, with Art Goodtimes coming this November) to recite in Salida on the third Thursday of each month at Bongo Billy’s. From her apartment in downtown Salida, she teaches and mentors aspiring poets. And she’s often on the stage herself, not with a quiet recitation or reading, but delivering meter and metaphors with passionate tones and a pounding drum beat.
Her path to Central Colorado, where she’s lived off and on since 1974, was a long way from being the direct route, since she was born in Maine and grew up in Brazil.
Jannet’s parents were Baptist missionaries in the interior, she explains, “but I saw them only during holidays, because I went to a boarding school in a beautiful coastal town with a climate like Hawai’i.”
But that turned her into a poet, rather than a surfer. “Poets are venerated in Latin culture,” she says, “and Portugese is a very poetic language. It’s spoken with tones that move all over the scale and even everyday speech has a cadence.” Plus, it has so many onomatopoetic words [words that sound like their meaning, like buzz in English], and “those are so much fun.”
HER PARENTS returned from Brazil, and she finished high school in New England. The contrast between Brazil and New England was like “fire meeting snow,” she recalls. Brazilians hug on the streets, and New Englanders seemed reticent about even shaking hands in public. “To this day, if I hear a Portuguese lilt on the street, we’ll end up embracing and inviting each other over.”
It was in high school that she began writing poetry, and she continued at Houghton College in upstate New York, where she majored in psychology and sociology. Houghton was a strict Baptist school, “and I got in a lot of trouble there. My skirt was too short, or my attitude was bad, that sort of thing.”
Nonetheless, she graduated, and eventually found a husband and then a social-worker job in Newark, N.J. After Brazil, “I felt more comfortable in African-American culture than in mainstream white culture,” she recalls. But racial tensions were building, “and the black leaders were telling us that if we cared about civil rights, we should be getting the message to white people.”
In the early ’70s, she and her husband headed west after reading that jobs were abundant in Alaska. But they found work in Denver, instead, as social workers.
Then they went back to Massachusetts for a while, “where my white-collar husband got into the building trades” — which would someday come in handy for building their dream cabin in the mountains near Blackhawk where they would raise their two sons.
But first there were the day jobs. He got a maintenance job for 2½ years at the Silver Creek Ranch, a church camp west of Buena Vista. Jannet has been around here off and on ever since, and Salida has been her home for the past two years.
“This valley — you just can’t get it out of your system. It just feels comfortable.”
Comfortable, yes, but it’s not a profitable place for a poet. Jannet is also a coffee distributor — shade-grown organic fair-trade coffees — through her All One Caravan company, and she does website work for New Media One, a company run by one of her sons (they live in Boulder and Seattle).
But poetry is her passion. “That’s what I do for pure joy,” she says. She loves to get out the drum and “bring poetry to people with a performance.”
SOME POETS HAVE ARGUED that poetry really doesn’t have much of a place on the printed page, that the poet’s motions and intonations and timing are so integral to the art that it’s almost a waste of time to put it on paper.
Jannet sees some merit in that argument, but she doesn’t buy it. “It’s a different kind of interaction, but you’re still interacting. When people read it and recite it themselves, they get into it, too, and in a different way than you did. So it can add a dimension.” She covers both bases with her chapbook River Song, Fire Song — it comes with a cassette tape of her readings.
Her poetry is sensual and connected to nature, with flashes of side-splitting humor, and if she had to categorize herself, it would be as “an eco-feminist protest poet.”
Jannet likes to get outdoors for two or three hours each day, often going to the same spot every day for several weeks. “The trees and rocks and the creek, they speak if I take the time to listen,” she says, adding that for her, it’s a spiritual practice, “more of a communion” that reflects her “passionate love of the earth.”
That’s the primary reason she loves this part of the world. “You feel more connected to nature here. I feel safest when I’m alone outdoors, and you do that easily here. There’s so much more to it than just feeling good and enjoying the view — although that’s pretty good, too.”
She’s encouraged by the growing interest in poetry, with readings that draw an audience, and open-mike nights at coffeehouses, and even some money for poets on occasion. “There’s a sort of poet circuit developing in Colorado,” she says, observing that she just returned from a reading in Fort Collins.
Some places even have “Poetry Slams,” with the bards confronting each other from their microphones. “I don’t like that,” Jannet says, “but it fits our aggressive culture, and it gets people interested in other poetic performances.”
Poetry will continue to become more popular, she says, “because people are tired of the canned stuff. We all want to interact with other people, make the connections, have a spontaneous experience. Poetry is part of life, not an academic exercise.”
As for the future, she plans to keep encouraging young poets and continue mounting the stage herself. And, “there’s a novel I want to write.”
Ed Quillen is a rather prosaic fellow who’d rather write about poets than write poetry.
Jude Jannet can be reached at email@example.com, or 719-539-9847.