A Holiday Appeal

I know there’s a lot of people appealing for donations this time of year, but if you’re looking for a great local organization to donate to please consider one of these.

This year I ran poetry classes with Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, The Chase Home for Children in Portsmouth and The International Institute of New England in Manchester. These are amazing organizations serving those in our community who are struggling to fit in, overcome great obstacles and find their way. NH Poet Laureate Alice B. Fogel and I teamed up for the class at IINE and artist Christos Vayenas and I partnered for the one at Safe Harbor. They all rely on community support in the form of donations and volunteer work.

Below is some brief information on each one with links on how to contribute. Thank you to the board of the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program for their support in all these endeavors.

We all know about the opioid crisis in our country, especially here in New Hampshire. Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth provides free services and support for the many people in our area struggling to get reconnected with themselves and the community. I don’t think anyone’s hearts are more open that those struggling to overcome addiction and those I’ve worked with at Safe Harbor have shown my own heart new depths. Donate to Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth here: http://www.granitepathwaysnh.org/donate/

The Chase Home for Children in Portsmouth has been providing free housing, food, clothing and support for the area’s at-risk youth since 1877. In the beginning the Chase Home was an orphanage, but has evolved to provide social, academic, emotional and family services at their location on Middle Road and with home-based services to local teens and young adults. These young people are a lot of fun to work with and prove that with a little bit of listening, giant leaps forward can be made. Right now, the Chase Home is in need of a new vehicle for transportation of their residents! Donate to Wheels for Chase Home here: http://www.chasehome.org/wheels-4-chase-home/

The International Institute of New England in Manchester helps refugees and immigrants settling in New Hampshire feel safe, supported and welcome. IINE provides a number of free services that include English and art classes as well as housing and job placement. Our students were resettled from places like the Congo, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Kenya and each one of these new Americans exemplifies the spirit of hard work, optimism and inclusion. Donate to the International Institute of New England in Manchester here: https://iine.org/donate/

Thank You!  Mike

Recovery and Connection

“The opposite of addiction is connection” Johann Hari

Throughout this last summer and fall I’ve been doing a poetry class at Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth and I’ve learned so much. I understand my own Tribe philosophy of “listen and be heard” in a way more nuanced than ever before.

When I saw the movie The Heroin Effect, directed by Michael Venn, at the Music Hall last spring I was moved to tears. Watching the harrowing struggles of those presented in the movie trying to overcome their addiction and reconnect with themselves, their life and the people in it, the depth of their grief was overwhelming. I remembered my friend Cody John Laplante, who wrote an article about the work I was doing and then a few weeks later, died, alone in his room of a heroin overdose. At the end of the movie, Sandi Coyle, who opened Safe Harbor, spoke and answered questions from the audience on stage. She implored us to do whatever we could to compassionately engage those with addiction and help in some way deal with the crisis our community faces.

Johann Hari’s quote from his TED Talk says it all and provides the direction that the community, law enforcement and lawmakers need to go in. The decriminalization of addicts and the compassion coming from so many officers and precincts is a major paradigm shift in the right direction, but we all need to open our hearts more. Addicts are those among us who are more sensitive and vulnerable to the greater crisis of disconnect in our culture. No amount of social media will help us regain that connection, and no amount of punishment is going to heal the addict or our society. Compassion is the only approach that works, but it requires us to look within and deal with the disconnect within ourselves. The addict’s problem is not an individual issue, it’s a cultural one. The addict is every one of us. We all need to be heard.  

I’m so grateful to the folks at Safe Harbor and the people I’ve worked with in class for sharing their stories with me. If there’s anything sacred in the world, it’s a vulnerable heart ready to listen and engage with others without judgement. In the realm of recovery these sacred hearts are in abundance, and they have so much to teach us.

If you’d like to make a donation to Safe Harbor please follow this link.

safe harborclass

 

Good Fat Poetry Zine

I’ve had this idea to do a poetry zine for a long time as a sampler of the many poets I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and knowing over the last couple decades and it’s finally here. Submissions for Good Fat came from around the seacoast, deep into New Hampshire, as well as some from Maine and Mass. And I’ve enjoyed discovering lots of new poets in the process.

In this issue we have poems from Zachary Little, Lindsay Jean Elitharp, Richard Foerster, Kayla Cash, Marybeth McNamara, Crystal Paradis, John-Michael Albert, Theresa Madison Monteiro, Angela Whiting, Heidi Therrien, Alfred Nicol, Jonathan Stoker, Shane Morin, Wendy Cannella, Lauren Wb Vermette, Maren Tirabassi, Barbara Bald, George Jack, Alice B. Fogel, Midge Goldberg, Katherine Leigh, Todd Dowey, Tammi Truax, Samantha Hayford, Carla Desrosiers, Julie Dickson, Andrew Periale, Shir Haberman and myself (couldn’t resist)

Thank you Anna Nuttall for the gorgeous artwork on the cover!

The power of listening and being heard is a gift that this community of writers gives to each other month after month, year after year at the many local readings throughout the region. This zine is one more way to give that gift and to reach outside those circles as well.

Thank you Portsmouth Book and Bar for sponsoring this issue and helping to get it off the ground. The zine is available for purchase exclusively at Book & Bar for a whopping 3 bucks. Thank you Southport Printing Company in Portsmouth for a great print job at a sweet price. And Thank you Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program for all your support in making this poetry dream come true.

Submissions are already being taken for the next quarterly issue. Go to goodfatpoetryzine.com for more info!

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The Chase Home Poetry Class

Down past the West End in Portsmouth, far from the concerns of hotels, parking garages and noise, as you’re heading towards the highway, tucked way off the road down a little winding driveway you’ll find The Chase Home for Children. Although this is not its original location, The Chase Home has been in town since 1877, first as an orphanage and now as a home for at-risk teens and young adults.

I believe a community’s, and thereby the world’s, problems begin and end with the issue of listening and being heard. Despite the increasing connectivity of technology, I see a greater sense of emotional disconnect than ever before, especially between kids and the adults around them. The kids I’ve had the privilege of teaching at The Chase Home are desperate for connection—real connection. They’re all there because the important connections that should have been made in their life, for the most part, have failed.

Poetry and the writing exercises we do in class together give these young adults an opportunity to express themselves in a safe atmosphere and allow for the vulnerability necessary to break down defenses that have built up over time. I know from my own childhood how isolating it can be when you feel no one is listening. I also know how that feeling can lead to self-destructive behavior. It’s been so rewarding to see these kids be creative and open up, letting the sensitive beautiful human beings that they are have a say and take part in a community of compassion. The Chase Home has been doing that for a hundred and forty years in Portsmouth and I’m so grateful to them for allowing me to be a part of it.

The Chase Home relies on donations, volunteers and community support to care for their residents. If you’re interested in making a contribution, please visit their support page.

Below are some of the writing and poetry art collages we’ve done in class over the summer.

A Fantastic Summer With Poets in the Park

Poets in the Park 2017 has come to a close. This summer we gave the stage to women and they reached hundreds of locals and visitors alike with the words of the women poets and writers that have inspired them throughout their lives. With a variety of voices from the region and beyond they helped us all step outside the echo chambers of thought and discourse and introduced new perspectives.

Women, as with many things, are still underrepresented in the field of writing which means their voices are under-heard in society. Poets in the Park was an incredible opportunity to do something to correct that imbalance and reach the ears of the general public.

I’m so honored and grateful to NH Poet Laureate Alice Fogel, NH Youth Laureate Ella Wheeler McGrail, former Portsmouth Laureate‘s Kate Leigh, Kimberly Green and Maren Tirabassi, Portsmouth City Councilor Nancy Pearson, Jenna Dion, Tamara J. Collins, Kayla Cash, Pricilla Cookson, Amanda Giles, Lauren WB Vermette, Cara Cristina Chanoine, Katherine Towler, Crystal Paradis, Taygra Longstaff, Jessica Purdy, Executive director of the NH Black Heritage Trail JerriAnne Boggis, Shetarrah Byfield, Jubilee Byfield, Wendy Cannella, Julie Dickson and Marybeth McNamara for participating and making this series an amazing one and something our community can be proud of.

And a HUGE Thank you to Ben Anderson and the Prescott Park Arts Festival for sharing your stage with us and giving us this opportunity. I’m already looking forward to next summer when we get to do it all over again!

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Poets In the Park – Women Reading Women

Here it is: the incredible list of women writers for the Poets in the Park – Women Reading Women series at Prescott Park! Each Thursday before the stage production of Mary Poppins, three amazing local/regional women poets and writers will take the main stage to read the work of, or read something they wrote about, another woman poet or writer of their choosing from history, recent or past.

In the 21st century, women writers are still underrepresented by a wide margin. Here is a quote from the book “Poet on Demand” about the life and times of Celia Thaxter by Jane E. Vallier: “A rewriting of the female literary history is perhaps the major academic and aesthetic responsibility of our generation of literary scholarship…work that includes the establishment of accurate texts, the recasting of biographies and the re-evaluation of literary traditions.”

With this in mind, we give the stage to women so they may continue to write their own history and establish the path for all of us towards a more equitable future.

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Article in the Portsmouth Sunday Herald about my plans with Tribe and the PPLP. by Jeanné McCartin

A Poet with a Mission

Portsmouth’s new poet laureate builds community through poetry

Posted May 14, 2017 

By Jeanné McCartin

Mike Nelson, a man with a mission, was named the eleventh Portsmouth Poet Laureate at a ceremony, April 3, at Portsmouth City Hall. Nelson had designs on the position, but with an eye on advancing poetry and programs rather than his own work. The eleventh Laureate said it best in his acceptance speech.
“For nearly two decades, the poetry community of Portsmouth has given me the gift of honoring my voice,” Nelson said. “I’m grateful and excited to use my position as laureate to give that gift back to Portsmouth and New Hampshire by creating platforms for a diversity of voices to be heard.”

It was no surprise his name was submitted to the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program’s selection committee, Nelson says. He’d expressed interest. He had a plan.“I wanted that position,” Nelson says. “I was really excited about the nomination. It was the opportunity to continue the kind of stuff I’ve been doing the last few years that aligns with PPLP’s mission to build community with poetry.” It was a chance to follow through with projects already in the works “and go bigger,” he adds. With that in mind, once appointed, Nelson hit the ground running.

Nelson has a history of building community with poetry. In Portsmouth, where the New Hampshire native now lives, he’s hosted the Press Room’s “Beat Night” for the past three years, taking on the responsibility after founder Larry Simon moved from the area.
“‘Beat Night’ was the first place I’d read a poem to anyone in public, and I’d had a great reception,” Nelson says. “We wanted to keep it going. The band wanted to keep it going. … And I didn’t want it to see it disappear.”

Nelson works a second program in Manchester, which grew out of an earlier one launched in 2015. The original was “The Tribe Poetry Project,” a class for students from the city’s high schools, offered through the Organization for Refugees and Immigrant Success. The group was composed largely of refugee and immigrant teens from countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle Eastern. Its success was evident in the voices that learned to express themselves, he says. Sharing and being heard is as important as writing the words, Nelson says. For that reason, he brings a microphone and and amp to class. “So when they write something, I ask them to read it to the group. They often want to. Then they get to the mic and it’s nerve-wracking, but they do it anyway,” he says. “When you stand in front of people and (read) your own work, sensitive words, and others listen, you feel heard. I SAW them feel heard, and saw that there was value in what they were saying. I could see that impact.”

He recalls one incident that profoundly moved him. A teenage girl had just arrived from an African country to be reunited with her mother after 10 years apart. “She came from a place where young women’s voices are not amplified, but actually the opposite.”  She wrote, but resisted sharing at the mic. Eventually she agreed, “but was still afraid.”Nelson gathered the class around the young poet. “She barely whispered what she was sharing, but she shared. That little moment was everything for me. Here these people are, gathered around her. ‘The Tribe’ says listen and be heard. When everyone is there and listening it does something to you,” he says. “I know that for a fact. I know the value because I went through it myself.”

Nelson recalls being that young person wanting to be heard, but too afraid to share. “Fifteen years ago, when I started going to poet readings, I didn’t think my voice had any value, or that anything I said had any worth.” Eventually, with community support, he made it to the mic. “They listened and applauded, and that changed my life.”

“I have always felt that when people listen to you that’s a gift. I’ve been given that gift over and over again. My personal mission with ‘Tribe’ and PPLP is to give that gift back. … I think there is no community without that; without listening and being heard.”

Nelson was contacted by the current New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice B. Fogel regarding a new poetry project, just as “Tribe” classes ended. The two formed “Raising Voices,” the latest program, with the International Institute of New England in Manchester. “Raising Voices,” which again works with refugees and immigrants, was launched shortly before Nelson took on the laureate mantel. “So, it made complete sense to make it part of what I’m doing. That’s the whole point of being laureate, to gain more attention for something – to amplify,” he says. It would have gone forward on its own, but as part of his laureate program, it enhances the visibility of both,“Raising Voices” and the PPLP program. The Manchester model may find its way to Portsmouth, he adds. “But, either way, I’m representing Portsmouth wherever I go.”

Plans for creating additional programs on the Seacoast during his tenure, all still in discussion, are for both larger programs and a number of smaller efforts. “I literally haven’t had the position a month yet, so it will take some time to get the other things started,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s love of poetry began in his late teens. He was out of school, and all “sixes-and-sevens.” “I didn’t feel I’d learned anything or connected with anything,” he says. “I started writing and, once I started, I never stopped.” The art is largely a way to ponder and process, he says. “I use poetry to delve into the questions I have about life; personally, globally and universally,” he says. “It’s such a part of my own process of being in the world, it’s hard to look at objectively.” Nature is an oft visited subject; it’s relatable, Nelson says. And his work is often peppered with humor. Little is more rewarding than making people laugh, he says. It also helps him make sense of life’s absurdities. “I’m trying to find the humor in very serious things. … Life is so often absurd and ridiculous. It just is. I’m not saying everything I write is funny, but it often goes in that direction” Nelson says.” And it’s fun to sort of turn things on their head, to rethink things, to look at it in a new way.” Writing’s process helps put things in perspective, he says. “I think writing in general keeps your feet on the ground. It allows my mind to wander, while staying grounded in reality.”

The hope is the finished product is relatable. As it is with all art, the best poetry allows others to find something of themselves in the work, a moment of true recognition and sharing, he says. When successful, “it’s immensely powerful, not just for yourself but others.” Both poet and listener feel heard, he says. “And once you feel heard, you’re not alone anymore. ”

To date, Nelson has published three books: “The One In The Middle” (2005), “Sometimes At Night” ( 2007) and “Another Forty Years” (2014). He is currently working on a fourth. A short story he wrote appeared in “Compass Points. Stories from Seacoast Authors” as well. He currently pens “Tribe Poetry Project,” a website regarding all his projects with poetry.

“People ask what does (the poet laureate) do. What’s it about? It’s really about the community. It’s about building community, not about me,” Nelson says. “I don’t think of myself as the best poet – certainly not. I don’t think there’s any best anything. And poetry is as diverse as music you know?”

“Poetry is more about how we can build community and amplify those voices that need to be heard,” Nelson says.

 

Raising Voices!

I’m very excited to share my first project with the PPLP as poet laureate called Raising Voices. State poet laureate Alice Fogel and I have partnered to put together a poetry and creative writing class at the International Institute of New England with a group of their refugee and immigrant English language students.

Our aim is to participate with the IINE in their efforts to make refugees and immigrants to New Hampshire feel safe, welcome and valued and to help them in the process of integrating into their new life here in the states. In the long run, we hope to collect the poems and stories of these new Americans in the form of writing and video diaries to create a forum for education and outreach to the larger community. 

Please check out the new blog page for this effort here for more info and to make a donation directly to IINE to help support these efforts. Thank you!

Grateful and excited to be chosen as the 11th Poet Laureate of Portsmouth

On April 3rd, 2017, I was read and handed the proclamation by Jack Blalock, Mayor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to be the 11th Poet Laureate of Portsmouth for a two-year term.

For many years the poetry community of Portsmouth has given me the gift of honoring my voice. I want to use my position as laureate to give that gift back to Portsmouth and New Hampshire abroad by creating platforms for a diversity of voices to be heard.

Writing poetry is usually a solitary practice and an important way of staying in touch with one’s own heart and mind. But it wasn’t until I read my poetry in public that I realized poetry’s other essential function. At the poetry reading everyone has a say, everyone’s voice is valued, everyone listens and everyone is heard. Poetry is a way to stay in touch with each other’s hearts and minds. And there’s no real community without that.

I’m extremely grateful for this honor. I look forward to working with the PPLP and the city to keep doing what I love and bring people together to write and read poetry in an atmosphere of diversity and inclusiveness. The plight of refugees and immigrants in New Hampshire, as well as anyone who struggles to be heard and understood, is very close to my heart. Everyone has a voice that needs to be honored and I want to reach out and find the hidden poets and amplify their voices. I look forward to playing an ever greater part in the building of this incredibly vibrant and compassionate community of Portsmouth.

Watch the video of the induction ceremony here.

8th Poet Laureate and dear friend Mike Albert introducing me to The Mayor and council

Mayor Blalock handing me the proclamation

10th poet laureate and dear friend Kate Leigh speaking about her term

Kate passing the Quill

 

 

 

Poem for Refugees

Says the man of fear,
do not let them in.
But we are all strange and troubled beasts
growing up together.

Says the man of fear,
do not let them in,
because he doesn’t understand
that a vulnerable heart,
rather than walls of safety,
is the way to peace.

Says the man of fear,
do not let them in,
because he forgets
that we are all refugees on this world
looking for a home.

Says a man of love,
Be the change you want to see in the world.
Says a man of love,
Love your enemy.
Says a man of love,
Those who are merciful have mercy shown them.
Says a man of love,
I have a dream.
Says a man of love,
Let them in.

Mike Nelson