Mike Nelson’s search for self started at 17 with a pen; it proved the perfect tool. It was foreign territory at the time — pen and self; today ink and exploration are the norm. Nelson, 42, of South Berwick, Maine, just released “Another Forty Years,” his third book of poetry, along with “The View from the Mic,” a two-disc accompanying album.It’s been an interesting, empiric and mentored path.
“I remember the exact moment it started, being at my parents’ house as a teen watching TV. I had just finished high school and felt lost, I had no sense of direction,” Nelson says. “I got up, got a pencil and paper and started writing. …; It was just a simple six-line poem.”
He had no experience or previous interest in the art.
“I wasn’t aware that what I was doing was writing poetry when I started. It was just a compulsion to put words to what I was feeling, to just get it out,” he says. “After it happened I thought, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it hasn’t stopped since.”
Things stepped up when he attended his first Beat Night at The Press Room at age 33. Initially he sat quietly at the back of the room. From his vantage point he watched John-Michael Albert (eighth Portsmouth poet laureate). He noticed Albert was always up front, vocal, passionate and hugely supportive of others. Eventually the two became friends and started having dinner together every month before a reading. “Those dinners were hugely formative for me. I learned so much from him about writing.”
Nelson shared his first book of poems with Albert, who offered feedback, “And that’s when my real education in poetry began.”
Stage time followed.
“I remember that first time at The Press Room I got applause. It was a transformative. I thought, ‘Wow this is worth something.’”
“I started to write more and more and take it seriously,” he adds. “I also discovered I loved being on stage.” He also recognized poetry’s entertainment value, something he began to pointedly explore.
“People don’t think of it necessarily as entertaining, but it can be, absolutely,” he says. “That’s part of what the CD being released with the book is all about.”
“The View from the Mic” is a tribute to his Beat Night community and is all about entertainment, he says. The two-disc set features Beat Night’s seven-member band: Frank Laurino, Chris Stambaugh, Cynthia Chatis, Scip Gallant, Don Davis, Mike Barron and Scott Solsky.
Disc 1 spotlights Nelson reading 13 of his works backed by the band.
Disc 2 “is the open mic part,” he says. It features six guest poets also reading to music: John Michael Albert, Genevieve Aichele, Kate Leigh, John Grady, Sal Sciretto and Lindsey Coombs.
“I chose to invite them because …; I felt that over these past 10 years I would not be where I am with my writing without them, without the audience, the poets, the musicians. Beat Night isn’t the only poetry reading I’ve gone to, but it’s the longest standing reading I’m part of.”
“Another Forty Years” includes 70 poems by Nelson, all written in the past seven years after the publication of “Sometime at Night,” his second book of poems.
The latest, self-published piece includes a tribute to Mike Albert, “who has totally mentored me.”
“Mike and I spent a number of Saturdays and Sundays at the computer going through it all — editing, and stripping things. We started with 200 (poems) and stripped it to 70, editing like crazy.”
“I learned so much from that process with him. It’s been one of the more gratifying things I’ve ever done. It felt like such a gift that someone like him, a master of the art, took the time to help me get the most out of it.”
Albert taught him “the economy of words,” he says.
“He was not only editing words but editing me,” he adds. “As we edited I would watch my own work come to full expression before my eyes.”
The CD and book’s official release is Feb. 20 at The Press Room. It is already available at RiverRun Bookstore, Amazon.com, and directly from the artist.
Nelson will promote the book at other readings as well; hopefully landing featured reader spots.
“It’s the best way to do it, and the most fun way. You’re meeting the people you just read to and getting a direct connection,” he says. “We all need it, to connect with each other that way. To me it’s going back to the time we were sitting around the fire and telling stories. Poetry readings are the modern version of that.”
“I have no illusions of grandeur about this. It’s really just about connecting with the local community,” he says.
His satisfaction is found in sharing, and being involved, from people coming out to a communal place, to read and to listen, he says.
The years of reading, writing, listening, sharing and working with Albert and others have borne their fruit.
“I feel I know what I’m doing now and have a much better sense of poetry and how to write it,” Nelson says. “It’s just something necessary. Something I have to do.”