CHINOOK - John Kulm has been a stand-up comic, a performance poet, a cowboy poet and for many years was a farmer in Quincy. His recently published book, "The Five Stages of Quitting Farming," recalls the loss of his parents' farm and the end of his career in farming in sometimes gut-wrenching poetry and prose.
Kulm said he used the five stages of grief as the theme of the book. "These were the five ways to make my book tell a story," he said. The book ends on a positive note, with acceptance of the loss of a way of life, not only for Kulm and his family, but for other farmers whose farms have been swallowed up by agri-businesses and foreign competition.
For a number of years, Kulm divided his time between Chinook and Quincy, where he worked on the farm growing apples, wheat and corn. In 1999, after the apple harvest, he said he looked at the books and saw he had just broken even. "I asked my parents if it was OK if I didn't do farming any more," he said. "They said 'sure.' So I said, 'If I can't be a farmer, I want to be a poet.'"
Kulm has been writing since he was a child.
"I was always better at writing than math," he said. "It was clear I wasn't going to be physicist. I've always had a knack for putting words together. It's always been there for me."
After graduating from Trinity Lutheran College in Issiquah where he majored in Biblical studies, Kulm spent 18 years touring with a one-person performance poetry show and did stand-up comedy for 12 years as well as touring the cowboy poetry circuit.
"At my last stand-up show in Montana, another comic came to me and told me my rap was more poetry than comedy. I wrote poems from then on."
Besides "The Five Stages of Quitting Farming," Kulm has published about six chapbooks of mostly cowboy poetry.
"This is the first book with an ISBN number," he said. "I don't think the Library of Congress considers it a real book without it, does it?"
Last March, he was invited to participate in the New York People's Poetry Gathering and two of his pieces were used in a series of poems displayed in Manhattan last year as a memorial for the events of last Sept. 11.
Kulm also writes the "Explain Yourself" column of interviews with local artists for Hipfish, a monthly arts and culture newspaper published in Astoria. "After my dad died last year, I needed to find something to do," he said. "So I started interviewing artists. My dad and the farm were so central to my life, I didn't know where to go with my writing. There was a space I needed to fill. Writing 'The Five Stages of Quitting Farming' filled that space."
"I'll always write and I still have a farm person's perspective," Kulm said. "That will never go away." He quotes a line from the book, "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the internal reality of 'countryness' outside of the boy's individual subjective experience."
"The Five Stages of Quitting Farming," published by Gazoobi Tales in Everett, is available at Time Enough books at the Port of Ilwaco and can be ordered through Kulm's Web site, www.farmpoetrybook.com and from Amazon.com. It costs $9.95 plus postage.