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, an amazing poet and artist who 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. 

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 judgment. 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.

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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. Twenty one women in all participated and read to crowds who may not normally have any relationship with poetry. Thank you to Ben Anderson and PPAF for sharing your stage with us!

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link to Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce post about Poets in the Park

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.”

Continue reading

Raising Voices

I’m 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. 

Once we see a person’s humanity and see that they’re people with families just trying to survive in the world like everyone else, compassion can be the only response. Refugees and immigrants are the same today in America as they’ve always been. The family history of so many Americans can be traced back to refugees and immigrants of all cultural and religious backgrounds who faced similar prejudices as those of today.

Through compassion and education, we can help stem the tide of fear and rise together toward a more integrated and supportive community.

 

Grateful 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 with an introduction to The Mayor and council

Mayor Blalock presenting 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

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