John Martin with vine and poem

An ode to the vine divine

Valdemar Estates Property Manager John Martin is a poet, writer, and journalist. In 2016, his book of poetry Hold This, was awarded the Concrete Wolf Poetry Series Louis Award. His poems have appeared in The High Desert Journal, Cascades Reader, Cascades East, Manzanita Quarterly, and America. John recently composed a poem from the point of view of a grapevine. The poem is mounted next to the vine of which it speaks:

When winter ends and the sun extends
its daily stay, my life begins again

My roots burrowing down
to the deep silent waters of life

My canes reaching up, sailing my leaves
in the sun's quick light

Every cell of my being gorging on
these moments out of time

The heat deepens and deepens as
hawks circle and my green yearning

Swells into sweet clusters of berries
that hang heavy in wait

My labor is done once more, and
what happens next is the work of hands,

Of voices and pruning shears, and then
long slow soundless months dark in oak,

Always a dream growing through day and
night of light glowing red in a glass.

John Martin with poem
John Martin stands near his poem and the vine.

It has been said of poet Ted Hughes (the prolific British poet, and Poet Laureate from 1984-1998), that he spent most of his time “in the lap of nature” – his early years were dominantly rural which proved a starting point to his imagination. The same could be said for John Martin. Nature is at the heart of John’s poetry: its beauty and its violence, as well as his experiences soaking in it. The theme of nature beats within both poet and verse. John translates this feeling to the written page effortlessly, and his work reflects the imagery of his connection to the land, as well as to our mortality and longing for these moments that are fleeting – the garden that dies at the end of the summer, the bird that lays dead at his feet, his ailing parents. He worked as a landscape contractor for nearly 30 years. He is a tender caretaker of words, as well as a gentle observer of the natural world around him.

Martin bears witness to the passing of time, and the passing of seasons. The themes of Martin’s poetry cover a lot of life, death, love, and matter-of-fact existence (one reviewer wrote of the book that it is “where loss and death prompt existential questions couched in the most accessible of terms”). However, in all of this traditionally heavy subject matter, what shines through is also his sense of humor, a certain magic realism, and a matter-of-factness about our place on this spinning orb, as well as the fragility of our relationships – with other people and with our ecosystem. We sat down to speak with John about his process.

How did you become a poet?
I had been writing on and off since I was a teenager, but had stopped writing for about a decade when life got busy. Then, in the early ’90s, when my daughter was very young, I began writing consistently once again. I suppose I was using my writing to find my way with words. The experience of becoming a father, and of having this young child in our lives, caused me to explore things and process things by writing all of my thoughts down onto the page.

How did you come to write Hold This?
I was living in Bend at the time, but my partner, Charlotte, and I were looking to relocate to Walla Walla. Bend is this old lumber mill town that had reinvented itself as a vacation and retirement resort, where a lot of folks from California and Seattle had moved to, as well as trustafarians who came to ski in the winter and party in the summer. Charlotte and I were looking for a slower, quitter place to be at that stage in our lives, and had settled upon Walla Walla as our destination of choice. The house was sold, another purchased, and as with all unique timing in life, that is when I found out that I had been accepted into PLAYA – an art and science residency program in Summer Lake, Oregon. I accepted the invitation to the residency and went there to write poetry. One year later, and I was still there, having accepted the position of Residency Manager.

Does this happen to you a lot? You went there to write poetry and ended up getting hired on; you came to Valdemar Estates to enjoy wine with friends and now you are our Property Manager, annual harvest assistant, and resident poet.
Ha, ha! Yes – similar situations. Both new endeavors. I haven’t got a full book of poems out of this experience quite yet, but I’m working on it.

It was fitting that we asked you to write a poem to accompany the massive vine we procured and mounted at Valdemar Estates. How did you approach the commission?
The idea of writing this piece from the point-of-view of the vine came to me almost immediately. I am fascinated by the process of plucking fruit from the earth and turning it into the most incredibly bottled experience that a person can have. To take this bounty from the landscape and then put it through the various steps of processing and fermenting just blows my mind. I’m so honored to be a piece of the Valdemar Family’s heritage by working in the Valdemar Estates wine production facility under the tutelage of our winemaker Marie Eve Gilla, it’s something that I relish every fall harvest. This year, we procured this massive vine from French Creek Vineyards, dried it out, and then I mounted it on the grand staircase wall. The vine is majestic and formidable. To have my words reside next to it is astonishing to see. I am so proud of what we’re doing here at Valdemar Estates – with our winemaking program, in the tasting room and restaurant, with our culinary program, and the new experiences that we’re rolling out, such as our series of wine blending courses – to be a part of this very new adventure, this new endeavor that the team here are building – while honoring the five generations of the Valdemar Family that have been planting vineyards and making wine – well, I think that the vine represents all of that connectedness. Our connection to the land, to being master growers, to having roots deeply embedded in the wine community, and now new shoots and new growth as Valdemar Estates has opened over the past 18 months. Attempting to capture the essence of this in a poem is something that I hoped I’ve accomplished, or at the very least, attempted to encapsulate.

John Martin’s book Hold This can be purchased in the Valdemar Estates online shop.