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

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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

Poems for Peace

It was my great pleasure to be a keynote speaker along with Pricilla Cookson and Dr. Paul Saint-Amand at Portsmouth Poet Laureate Katherine Leigh‘s event “Poems For Peace” held at 3S Artspace this week. There were twelve young poets (some with tie-died shirts!) all under the age of eighteen getting up in front of their parents and everybody else to read their poems about peace. Thanks Kate for bringing that 60’s style to 2017 and for reminding us how much we need peace love and understanding!
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 You can watch the entire event on youtube here.
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Below is the brief speech I gave aimed at our young audience.
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Peace: Listen
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Screenshot (46)_editedWhen you look at evolution and human history one thing that’s clear is that life on earth has never been completely safe or peaceful. And things are no different now.  In times of change, some people go backwards. They want things to be the way they remember them, even if that way is only good for them. Because change can be terrifying. And if you look past angry faces and voices, you will see fear.

But change is inevitable. Though there are what appear to be backwards steps, life, ultimately, is moving in only one direction. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” And we are all somewhere along that arc trying to figure it all out.

But the one thing I see that exacerbates the process and stalls the evolution towards justice and peace more than anything is the belief that you are completely right. But no one is completely right. This belief, no matter who it’s coming from, is the energy that feeds the seeds of anger and hatred. What you end up with is what we have now; this boiling indignant war of words that goes back and forth and leaves us stuck in the mud.

To be a true voice of peace in the world requires humility. Historically it’s those quieter, more humble voices that rise above the fray, endear the hearts of those who hear them and lead people to peace. Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And that’s the hardest thing: every day, in your words and actions, to be an example of peace.

Because of technology there are more ways than any time in human history for the individual to connect and use their voice. But how you connect and use your voice is extremely important. But equally important is how you listen.

Listening to each other, especially to those with who you disagree, listening with quiet humility, is the most important thing we can do for peace. Listening is peace. Listening is a gift we give to someone else, and it’s the only way we get that gift in return. If you want to be heard, first you have to listen.

Constantly bashing, shouting down, insulting and making fun of the other who you think is a idiot goes against the grain of peace and just adds to all the noise. But look past the noise, theirs and yours, and honor the vulnerable light within. Using your voice without listening is a bird flapping only one wing, spinning in circles on the ground. But by using your voice and listening with humility you and the other will discover what you have in common. And you will both soar. And so will peace.

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ORIS Fundraiser Results

Thank you to everyone who participated in this incredible event! We made 1138 dollars for Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success! Thank you Wendy Stevens, Charlene Higgins and Lindsey Shaffer for all the great work you do at ORIS!

Thank you to Katherine Leigh, Tammi Truax, Katherine Towler, Sarah Anderson, Crystal Paradis, Stefanie King, Lindsey Coombs, Lauren Wb Vermette, Wendy Cannella, Wendy Stevens, Heidi Therrien, Lauren Elma Frament and Allie Fitzgerald for being our amazing features for the night. Thank you also Fatuma Mahadi, Amin Hassan, Nasteho Mohamed and Dilip Tmg, Tribe Poetry Project students, for coming and reading at the mic.

Thank you Midheaven Massage, Stelzer Metalworks, Dos Amigos Burritos, Tulips American Handcrafts, The Music Hall, Ceres Bakery, Portsmouth, Street 360, Seacoast Rep, Score More Sales, Tournament Headquarters, Eileen Fay Flockhart and Steffanie Antonio Art for donations to the fundraising raffle.

Thank you Megan Stelzer and Crystal Paradis for going around the room and selling the raffle tickets at the event. Thank you Denise Wheeler for taking these fantastic photos.

Thank you to The Beat Night Band, Scip Gallant, Mike Barron, Frank Laurino, Chris Stambaugh, David Tonkin, Scott Solsky and Don Davis for always being there and playing just the right thing every time. And Thank you Bruce Pingree and The Press Room for always giving us a home.   

After the beat night fundraiser last month many posts were made and shared far and wide. We watched the number rise steadily over a month and we saw the names of our friends show up on the donation list as the seacoast joined in the state-wide campaign for ORIS and the 20,000 dollar goal was reached by the deadline! 

This fundraiser was about a show of support from the community for this farm where refugees and immigrants to New Hampshire have a place to work, live and thrive, and that support has been given 100%! The next step is some grant writing to some larger donors and with the support of the community behind them the people at ORIS are extremely confident the ultimate goal of purchasing the farm will be reached.

I’m so proud to have participated in this fundraiser through Beat Night and to be a part of a community of such caring and compassionate people! Thank you to everyone who took part in this incredible show of compassion! click here to see the results: https://www.crowdrise.com/fundraiser/campaign-updates/1119555#!/status/13                                   Mike Nelson

Beat Night Fundraiser: NH Farmland for Refugees

It’s more important than ever to help immigrants and refugees to the United States assimilate, become self-sufficient and feel welcome. And it’s also more important than ever to listen to women. At the December 15th Beat Night we will do both.

ORIS (Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success) in Manchester is doing really important work and they need our help. ORIS is pursuing the purchase of 56.8 acres in Dunbarton NH to create a permanent farmstead that offers refugee farmers a place to grow food as well as live.

The December 15th Beat Night is going to be a fundraiser to help buy this farm! We have fourteen special guest poets and speakers who will be featured that evening and they are all women.

During this season of giving let’s do something important with our time and money to help ensure that refugees and immigrants to New Hampshire have a place to work and be a part of the community as well as continuing to make New Hampshire a beacon of compassion in the world. 

#BeatNightforORIS

 

Article in The Square about the thriving poetry scene on the seacoast by Debbie Kane

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Crystal Paradis steps up to the mic at Beat Night at the Press Room

It’s a full house inside The Word Barn, a  19th century barn in Exeter. People mingle or sit in folding chairs, waiting expectantly for the afternoon program of poetry and short story readings to begin. It’s the third
installment of the Silo Series, organized by poet  and writer Sarah Anderson. Nearly every chair is occupied, an indication of how popular the series has become in the short time — less than a year — it’s been in existence.

Similar scenes are playing out in various venues around the Seacoast where seasoned and aspiring poets read their work in front of appreciative audi- ences. “Poetry speaks to people’s lives,” says David Phreaner of Greenland, co-chair of the board of trustees of the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program (PPLP) and host of its monthly Poetry Hoot. “It’s a unique way to tell a story.”

Poetry persists, despite rumors of its demise. According to the 2012 national Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, only 6 percent of Americans had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year; the survey also noted that the number of poetry readers has shrunk 45 percent since 2002.

On the Seacoast, however, poetry is thriving. One reason is the PPLP. Founded in 1997, the PPLP grew out of the Shipyard Dance Project, a collaborative arts project between the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and The Music Hall. The experience brought together a di- verse group, including Nancy Moore Hill, a resident interested in building community through poetry. Hill was a driving force behind founding PPLP, establishing its endowment and serving as chair of its board for a decade. With a mission to build com- munity through poetry, the program selects a poet laureate who serves a two-year term and spearheads a poetry-based project that brings people together, much like the Shipyard Dance Project.

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Deirdre Randall gathers poets and songwriters together for the Writers in the Round show on WSCA

“The PPLP has a great deal to do  with the vibrancy of the poetry scene  in Portsmouth,” says writer Katie Towler of Portsmouth, a former PPLP board member. “Projects conceived by different poet laureates have done so much to promote community among local writers and build awareness of poetry on the Seacoast.” Those projects have included reproducing poems in public outdoor spaces around Portsmouth, free workshops taught by area poets and organizing “creation circles” for aspiring poets to meet and read poetry (many of those groups continue to meet regularly).

Kate Leigh is the tenth Portsmouth poet laureate. The Portsmouth resident’s project is Poems for Peace, which brings students together to explore social issues through poetry. Leigh uses the city’s African Burying Ground memorial as a starting point for middle and high school students to discuss issues like race and social justice. During her school visits, after Leigh reads a poem, everyone — Leigh, teachers, and students — writes for 15 minutes. Then they share what they’ve written. “It’s more about process than results,” says Leigh. “Kids know about the social unrest in the world; they’re paying attention and they love writing poetry. It’s so gratifying to see how much they care.”

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Portsmouth Poet Laureate works with a group of young poets at the Portsmouth Public Library

There’s a loyal following of adults who enjoy poetry, too. In addition to the newer creation circles, local poetry writing groups have existed for years. One of the longest running is City Hall Poets, an invitation-only gathering that’s met off  and on off at Portsmouth’s City Hall for nearly 20 years. Although much of its meetings are social, the purpose is share each other’s poems and get feedback. Mark DeCarteret, Portsmouth’s seventh poet laureate, is a member of City Hall Poets. He sees a shift in ow people share poetry. “Poetry readings and groups may fall by the wayside,” he says. “You can post your poem online now and everyone can comment. I wonder if getting together and offering a one-on-one critique is something that future generations will be comfortable with.”
             Yet there are many area poetry programs drawing appreciative audiences.

Beat Night host Mike Nelson with the Beat Night band : Frank Laurino, Mike Barron, Chris Stambaugh, Scip Gallant, Cynthia Chatis, Scott Solsky and Dave Tonkin

The Hoot

About 50 people show up regularly for the Poetry Hoot, an open mic poetry reading at Café Espresso in Portsmouth. Held the first Wednesday of each month, the Hoot, launched in 1999 by then poet laureate Robert Dunn, is a convivial gathering of new and experienced poets who gather for dinner, then read their works out loud. Published poets read during the first part of the program, then it’s open mic, when anyone can read their poem. “We’ve tried to create a culture where as many people as possible can access poetry,” says PPLP’s Phreaner. “It really works.”

Beat Night

When the creator of Beat Night moved away from the Seacoast three years ago, Mike Nelson, a longtime participant in the 17-year-old live music and poetry reading event, knew he had to keep it going. He’s now Beat Night’s organizer and host. Held monthly at Portsmouth’s Press Room, Beat Night features performers accompanied by a live band. Prior to their readings, performers tell the Beat Night band the tone of their poems. The band, a talented group that only performs together during Beat Night, improvises a musical backdrop. “The music profoundly changes the way you read your poem,” says Nelson. “It’s pretty unique and a hell of a lot of fun.”

The Silo Series

Sarah Anderson’s idea for the Silo Series evolved from a daydream she had one winter day, gazing out the window of her farm house at the finished barn on her property. “I initially thought of hosting writing workshops in the barn,” says Anderson, an adjunct English teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy. “But then I thought about poetry and short fiction readings. I loved that idea.” Named for the grain silo across the street, the Silo Series launched in May 2015 in Anderson’s aptly renamed Word Barn. There have been four readings, featuring local poets and writers Anderson has met from her MFA poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and writing workshops like Middlebury College’s Breadloaf Writers Conference. Featured readers have included Todd Hearon, Tim Horvath, Jessica Purdy, Maggie Dietz, Andrew Mitchell and Chard deNiord, the poet laureate of Vermont. Anderson hopes to eventually host writing workshops.

Writers in the Round

Singer/songwriter and poet Deidre Randall founded “Writers in the Round,” a live radio program, 12 years ago at Portsmouth Community Radio. Each Monday night, Randall or co-host Guy Capecelatro III (they alternate as show hosts) welcome a poet and local songwriters to perform on air and discuss their work. “We think of it as an artist’s salon,”she says. The show is hosted on location, live, at Prescott Park on Mondays in the summer. It’s also live streamed on the WSCA-FM website.

Opportunities to read, or listen to, poetry abound on the Seacoast. More than a unique way to tell a story, they’re a foundation for building community. “I think of [poetry readings] as a third space,” says Beat Night’s Nelson. “We have spaces for home and work, this is like a third space for community, where everyone can participate.”  

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Cut and paste the old fashioned way

IMG_20160203_161140928IMG_20160203_164059569In our January/February classes at ORIS our students are Somali-Bantu but were all born in  Dadaab in Kenya, a UNHCR refugee camp and the largest one in the world. One of the girls just arrived a few months ago and was reunited with her mother after ten years.

This time we took a different approach to poetry. We IMG_20160113_154715528took the cut up method of writing very literally.  Some friends of IMG_20160203_161648180mine had donated a big pile of Poetry magazines and I gave the kids some scissors, glue sticks and paper and told them to follow their instincts and inspiration. They read through the magazines cutting out lines and verse IMG_20160203_161313that they liked to make new poems out of them.

They were exposed IMG_20160203_152835856to a lot of different writing at once but this also freed them up IMG_20160203_163952827from linear thinking as they pasted together new poems all their own. I’ve always thought that writing is part inspiration and part thievery.

I can’t say enough about how important it is to break away from our habitual ways of IMG_20160113_154136270_HDRthinking and looking at life. Poetry introduces new and wild ways of seeing that have the power to create connections in our IMG_20160203_160927783mind between ideas that were previously miles apart. Poetry IMG_20160203_162357275can create worm holes in the fabric of thought that send us to places we never could have imagined otherwise.

For these kids and their process of integration into a new culture, becoming aware of new modes of thought IMG_20160203_164349696through poetry can overturn fears and bring new insight that is IMG_20160203_164016820_HDRinvaluable to cultivating their sense of self and place. When we read we are listening, not just to the writer but to our own thoughts as well. Our own voice gets louder and more and more we understand the value of sharing who we are with the world. Which is why it’s so fun to read at the mic!mike_oris-2