Jeff Holland, Chesapeake troubadour Eastport poet laureate captures history in verse

August 05, 1996|By S. Mitra Kalita | S. Mitra Kalita,SUN STAFF

For 15 years, Jeff Holland has been writing songs and poems designed to make the history and treasures of the Chesapeake Bay come alive. But he insists he wants his work, not his name, to be remembered after he is gone.

"I want these poems and songs to become real folk songs and folk poetry -- so folk they become indigenous," he says.

The bearded storyteller with bright blue eyes entertains with tall tales and history lessons about Eastport, Annapolis and the bay.

Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins bestowed the title of Eastport poet laureate on Holland in December.

"Using poetic license, Jeff Holland has brought the history and heritage of Eastport alive in a most entertaining manner," wrote the mayor, who represented an Eastport ward on the city council for 25 years.

The city "decided Eastport is so special it needed its own poet laureate to sing its praises," Holland said.

"There's a little neighborhood over across the creek/ You get there when you shuffle along Compromise Street/ You cross the Spa Creek Bridge or paddle through the Harbor,/ To the opposite side of Annapolis proper," go the lyrics to "Eastport Shuffle."

One of Holland's ballads, "Chessie, the Sea Monster That Ate Annapolis," became an illustrated children's book. Although the ballad was not written for children, Holland used the book as an example of how he "can bring people of all ages in touch with the Chesapeake Bay."

He said the history of the area provides insight into its character.

"America really started in so many parts of Annapolis," he said. "John Paul Jones, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson pirates and treasures. I take these historical nuggets and develop stories around them."

Holland grew up in Pittsburgh, but fell in love with the Chesapeake Bay when he and his father frequently chartered sailboats from Annapolis.

He moved to Eastport in 1981.

"Annapolis is a Southern town," he said. "And while it's growing quickly, it keeps its small-town flavor."

Holland, who is director of public relations for Annapolis boat shows and a columnist for the biweekly Publick Enterprise, said he doesn't plan to quit his day job to perform full time.

"I wouldn't want to give any of that diversity up," he said. "Doing so many things is as exciting as running off and joining the circus -- only I get to stay at home."

Holland has a regular Thursday night gig aboard the schooner Woodwind on its sunset sail from the Marriott Waterfront in Annapolis. He weaves in history lessons and songs about the the landmarks the boat passes.

Usually, Holland is a big hit with the tourists, said Jennifer Kaye, who works aboard the schooner.

"It reminds them of sea shanties. It's a really unique form of entertainment," she said. "Jeff gets them to gather round and has them singing and clapping."

But when a crowd on a recent evening seemed to prefer Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" and Los Del Rio's dance hit "Macarena," Holland gave up and provided background music on his ukulele.

"You just go with what the crowd wants," he said. "I perform for anyone with an interest in the Chesapeake Bay and Annapolis. I perform for anyone who'll listen."

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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