Story and photos by Timothy Gillis
PORTLAND – CTN, the local cable access channel, is churning out quality programming with talented artists, musicians, and poets, both in front of and behind the cameras.
One of its shows, the Poets’ Café, is a monthly TV show of poetry and music, and the brainchild of Steve Luttrell, Portland’s poet laureate. Luttrell, the show’s host, is the perfect pitch man for the job. Luttrell is the founder and editor of The Café Review, Portland’s journal of poetry and art. The Café Review has been the monthly missile for more than 23 years now, and Luttrell has been the guiding force throughout its existence. The troubadour is proud to be trumpeting Maine poets and musicians on the local cable access channel, an asset of increasing value because of its rarity. Over the last few years, Luttrell has expanded his poetic reach by welcoming poets and musicians from around Maine, creating more than 20 episodes of poems and songs, put on by an all-volunteer crew.
“The thing I love about community television is that there is so little of it,” Luttrell said. Local channels like 6, 8, and 13 don’t deliver local stories, he said.
Seth Dussault is director of the Poets’ Café, as well as three other shows broadcast by CTN, out of their Congress Street studio.
He got his start with the Poets’ Café when he dropped out of film school in Philadelphia and came to Maine.
“I didn’t want to go back to school for film production, but knew I wanted to pursue it,” Dussault said. “I went to CTN to see if they had any volunteer positions.”
There he met station director Bill Blood and got rolling right away. He started editing some shows.
“I’ve been there three, almost four years now,” Dussault said. “It’s been trial by fire, but I’m progressing through. It’s been hands-on all the way.”
The three other shows he directs are called “Portland with Patrick,” which features up-and-coming musicians, “That’s Just It” with Connor (McGrath) and Kurt (Baker), a comedy show, and “The Campfire Cowboy,” hosted by Kevin Tacka.
“I don’t know how to explain that (last) one,” Dussault said. “It’s supposed to be for kids, but it’s pretty strange.”
Dussault and his crew were preparing to film February’s edition of the poetry show last week. CTN films the Poets’ Café once a month, and then re-airs it several times a week.
On this month’s program, viewers meet Kendall Merriam, the Rockland poet laureate and someone Luttrell introduces as the “conscience of Rockland.”
Merriam read “Crocodile Tears,” a poem he wrote for Barack Obama’s inauguration, one the poet says “nobody will publish” because it’s controversial.
“It’s not pleasant,” he said.
Merriam is quite famous in his hometown, actually, known for delivering poems each week as a paperboy delivers newspapers. He boasts more than 125 clients who wait each week for his gifts of rhyme and rhythm.
Merriam, who is a disabled American veteran, makes his way from shop to shop in Rockland’s downtown, meeting with friends and delivering his poems.
“I feel very strangely that I should be doing this,” Merriam said from the CTN studio last week.
A documentary by Salt Institute senior Kristin Moe ably demonstrates how powerfully felt Merriam’s poetry is, and how eagerly awaited is its arrival.
The segment can be viewed at Salt, and Merriam said it’s now also on Facebook. His friends in India have even had a chance to check it out.
“He’s quite a public figure,” Moe said. “Everybody in Rockland knows him. He’s different. He perceives the world in a different way than we do. He views the world through a more honest lens. Some people react really well to that honesty, and some others don’t really want to hear it.”
When he comes around on his poetry route, most business owners look forward to seeing him.
“He’s one of the kindest and most open people – in terms of being open to ideas, and seeing the world in a different way,” Moe said.
Merriam started writing poetry when he was 30 years old, and now the state library in Augusta has more than 30 books of poetry and plays attributed to him.
With a wry sense of humor, Merriam’s poems often shock. One poem in his high school yearbook is “a humorous poem about cannibalism. It ends with ‘People are our only product,’” he said.
When he writes, Merriam usually listens to music, and lists the musical muse that inspires each poem.
“Sometimes I use something that is germane to someone I’m writing about,” he said.
Of his appearance on the Poets’ Café, which will be aired on CTN (local channels 2 and 5) soon and can be seen after that on the CTN5 website, Merriam said the 30-minute show was well worth the drive.
“Steve’s been very encouraging to me. He’s bugged me for years to submit poems to his magazine. Finally, I sent him some,” Merriam said.
The show opened and closed with some music by Shanna Underwood, on vocals and guitar, and Devon Colella, on cello. The segment can be seen shortly on http://www.ctn5.org/shows/poets-cafe.