A Special Beat Night

On June 16 2022, for the first time in Beat Night’s twenty three year history, we have sitting state poet laureate Alexandria Peary featuring along with soulful newcomer Gina Puorro.

Alexandria Peary is the author of nine books including her new one Battle of Silicon Valley at Daybreak.

She has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa writers workshop at the University of Iowa, a second MFA in poetry from the University of Mass Amherst and a PhD in English composition from the University of New Hampshire.  

Her work has received many awards including a 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship, Best of NH, the Iowa Poetry Prize, and several Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations. 

She specializes in mindful writing and gives frequent talks on the topic including a TED talk on how mindfulness can transform the way you write. 

Her activities as poet laureate include the 2020 North Country Young Writers’ Festival, helping NH writers get published, and facilitating mindful writing workshops for people affected by the opioid crisis. 

She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Under the Madness, a new literary magazine edited by NH teens. 

She is a professor in the English Department at Salem State University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in creative writing and mindful writing. 

She was born in Dover and lives in my home town of Londonderry New Hampshire

I was honored to work with her on her Submit-A-thon projects and to be published in her Covid Spring anthology of granite state pandemic poems with so many awesome new Hampshire poets.  

To learn more about Alexandria visit her website or her page at NH Sate Council on the arts.

Gina Puorro says on her website, she is a student of magic, love, grief, intimacy, myth and story, ritual arts, and the wild and vast terrain that we call nature and that her writing is inspired by the exploration of good questions, by relating with her human and non-human kin, and by her pursuit of beauty and awe. 

Former NH state laureate Maxine Kumin called Mary Oliver “a guide to the nature world.” I think Gina Puorro is a new and important guide and voice for the natural world and our place in it. in her book The Wild Will Call You Back, she implores us to be, not passively, but profoundly and actively with ourselves and each other and the world in this moment.

Poetry Broadside

Poet Laureate of Portsmouth, Tammi Truax, came up with a really cool project, a Japanese themed poetry broadside contest. A Broadside is generally a sheet of paper 11×17 with a poem and an image.

For this contest, Tammi asked that a poet team up with a visual artist to inspire each other and create the broadside together. I challenged my friend John-Michael Albert to come up with a poem that I could work with visually. He sent me almost twenty to choose from in the Japanese tanka form. But it was his poem about the crows and the question he asks that grabbed me.

In Japan the crow is both messenger of God and a bad omen. In Greek mythology, Apollo, the God of poetry and plagues sent a crow to spy on Coronis. Alberts poem captured all this mystery and intrigue about the crow for me. And being in the middle of the pandemic, the question that the poem asks feels especially appropriate as we learn the hard way that we are not the most powerful force in this world.

Another important aspect of the contest is that it brings attention to and celebrates Asian culture in a time when Asian Americans are experiencing new levels of prejudice and violence.

All the other entries for the contest can be viewed here on the PPLP website

I’m happy to say that our Broadside won the contest judged by poet and translator Patrick Donnelly This is what Donnelly had to say about our broadside

“I loved so many things about this broadside: the handmade feel of the whole production, and the integration of art and poetry, the dynamism of the artwork, and the surprise of scale in which an assertive crow surmounts the planet itself; the charming metaphors of the poem which evoke sound, sight, and even taste, and its skillful syllabics—of course, a gesture towards the ubiquitous syllable-counting of traditional Japanese poetry; the witty allusion to the inkan, the red mark of the artist’s stamp, with which Nelson and Albert sign their work; and the fact that the poem ends with questions, wondering whether crows or people are the rightful owners the world. The poem itself is, “smart, hungry, and curious”, which are extremely valuable qualities in making art.” Patrick Donnelly

Submit-a-thon Round 2 with Alexandria Peary

Well, it went so well the las time and we’re still stuck in a pandemic so what better time for Alexandria Peary’s brilliant and fun communal Submit-a-thon! She asked if could help again and of course I said yes. It is so fun helping our fellow poets overcome those fears and imposter syndromes and get those poems submitted. Alex is a big proponent of mindfulness and submit-a-thon is another opportunity to practice. The group setting is very effective in getting participants to let go and have fun especially when you see everyone is carrying around the same fears of rejection and I’m not worthy feelings. All that and special guests Tom C. Hunley and John-Michael Albert!

Submit-a-thon 2020 with Alexandria Peary

When State laureate Alexandria Peary asked me to co-host her Submit-a-thon event with her I was super thrilled. It was Covid lockdowns and Alex had this really great idea to take the process of submitting poetry to magazines and turn it into a fun group project. Using Zoom and the Submittable website with some time limits the group would see how many poems they could get submitted at once. With Alex’s encouragement combined with the energy of the group many poems were effortlessly submitted to multiple zines. Also we had a tutorial on how to write a cover letter and special guest Alice Fogel!

Interview about Beat Night

State Poet Laureate Alexandria Peary interviews myself and Frank Laurino of the Beat Night Band about Beat Night’s history and purpose.

This interview was originally published on the New Hampshire Poet Laureate blogspot

Alexandria Peary: I interviewed Mike Nelson, host of Beat Night and former Portsmouth Poet Laureate, and Frank Laurino, Percussives in The Beat Night Band. (Other band members include Scip Gallant, David Tonkin, Chris Stambaugh, and Mike Barron.) In its twenty-first year—and continuing online during COVID Spring—Beat Night is the oldest regularly scheduled poetry event of its kind in the United States. Find Beat Night at Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant Street, Portsmouth every third Thursday of the month at 7pm.

AP: How would you describe Beat Night to someone new to the New Hampshire writers’ scene?

Mike Nelson: Beat Night is a poetry reading with a unique twist. Every poet gets to read his or her poem with a full band backing them up. The poet gives a few words to the band about the tone, style or mood of the poem, and the band improvises something brand-new just for that poem. 

Frank Laurino: Beat Night is a performance of spoken word and improvisational music modeled on the Beat Poet coffeehouse gatherings of the 1950s and early 1960s. Beat Night features Seacoast poets and writers with the Beat Night Band providing a musical backdrop. Nothing is rehearsed: it is spontaneous, free-spirited, and “never the same way once.” 

AP: What are three or four words that immediately come to mind when you think about the essence of Beat Night?

MN: Poetry, music, community.

FL: Creativity, improvisation, community.

AP: Pre-COVID-19, what was a typical Beat Night event like?

FL: Structurally, most nights are divided into two one-hour segments. The first hour typically showcases one or two featured readers; the second hour is an Open Mic where anyone in attendance may read.

AP: Beat Night recently celebrated its twentieth year of operation. What’s involved in sustaining a writers’ event series for the long-haul as you and your colleagues have so clearly done to great success?

MN: First, it’s great success started with a great idea from Beat Night’s creator, Larry Simon. Larry started it back in 1999 with a simple idea of having poets read with the band in the tradition of the Beat Poets of the 60s. Larry ran Beat Night for seventeen years, and it gained a loyal following. I discovered Beat Night when it was in its fifth year at The Press Room, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The thing about Beat Night is that it’s never the same thing twice so you never know what’s going to happen, and that’s a big part of what makes it exciting every month. 

FL: It’s a “jazz thing,” in my opinion. If there was a deliberate strategy behind the event, it either would not have lasted so long, or it would be decidedly “academic.” Very much like a jazz performance, Beat Night has an environment where creativity can flourish. The readers are free to express themselves any way they wish. The band listens and reacts appropriately, on the fly. The audience is very attentive. The cumulative effect is emotional, engaging, and without artifice. I’m not sure the Beat Night experience can be manufactured; it’s got its own energy.

AP: How did this event come to receive its name?

FL: Literally, Larry Simon named it in honor of the Beat Generation poets.

AP: Is this an open-mike venue?

MN: Yes, an open mic hour always follows the feature hour. I think the open mic is extremely important because reading your poetry out loud to a group and getting that communal feedback is an integral part of the writing process. You can’t grow as a poet without the open mic, and when we only have features we’re shutting a lot of people, mostly young new writers.

AP:  Why Portsmouth?

FL: Portsmouth has, for whatever reasons, been regarded as the most creative (if not politically open-minded) city in New Hampshire. Portsmouth also is an attractive destination for creative performers and audiences from Boston and Portland.

MN: Beat night is in Portsmouth because that’s where Larry was when he started it. Beat Night can be a little rough around the edges, as art should be, and Portsmouth has a great history of being home to many unconventional poets, artists, musicians and actors.

AP: What’s the role of the Beat Night Band?

FL: The band provides an added dimension to the stereotypical “poetry reading,” and helps cement the Beat Generation vibe (although the band’s style goes well beyond “cool” and “be-bop” jazz). Like the readers, the band’s musical explorations are all over the map. We only have two rules: #1, “Listen first”; #2, “Play appropriately.” From a more philosophical and personal level, the music restores an ancient power to the words, something lost since the advent of printing. Historically, the poetry and music were part of a singular – and communal – event. The idea of the poet agonizing over the arrangement of words in a quatrain, or the reader pouring over a volume in quiet solitude, is a modern invention. Words, music, community – to me, this is the essence of poetry. The band helps Beat Night tap into that power.

MN: The role of The Beat Night Band is to give life to the words of every poet that reads at the mic by improvising a brand new piece of music just for them. They have the hard job. They set up all their equipment and play the whole two hours. They are the heart of beat night and I give all the credit to them. There would be no Beat Night without The Beat Night Band and the dedication of those guys coming back every month for twenty years.

AP: In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve taken steps to make sure that the Beat Night tradition continues. Could you describe how people can still participate even with social distancing?

MN: I decided instead of doing an online reading or something I wanted to create some lasting and sharable content. I’ve asked poets to record themselves using their phones or whatever reading a poem and emailing it to me and the band has been sending me recordings of music from their solo material and other projects. I listen to the poems and then I go through the music that the band has sent me and I pick something that fits the tone of the poem. Then I use a program on my computer to splice them together.  I find or take a photo that encapsulates the piece and create a video that gets uploaded to the Beat Night YouTube Channel in a virtual beat night playlist. 

AP: Mike, what most motivates you as Beat Night event manager?

MN: When Larry left Beat Night, we had to keep it running, and I wasn’t just a participant: I really believed in it. Keeping that mic open is a sacred duty to me. Every month I see the effect that the opportunity to be heard does for people. And the band only intensifies that effect because that writer is receiving a piece of music made just for them for every poem. Beat Night is bigger than me. I’m just a steward. I didn’t create it and they’ll be others after me, but it’s my honor to be that steward every month.

AP: Could you describe one of the most memorable evenings at Beat Night?

MN: One that sticks out is back when Larry got Eric Mingus, the son of Charles Mingus, to perform,  and he was off-the-charts amazing. Also David Amram, who was friends with the likes of Kerouac and Ginsberg and a forefather of the beat poetry and music scene. In the realm of beat poetry and music, he’s a holy man. He can play any instrument; he’s full of stories and an immensely positive person.

FL: Prince Shapiro recently gave a stunning performance based on his native apartheid South Africa. Riveting. A while back, Heather Lessard read a Valentine’s Day piece that was – how should I put this – electric. Many years ago, Young Dawkins read his own work, describing the poets, the band and the venue (the Press Room at that time) as “his church,” a very moving tribute. Any Halloween Beat Night with Jonathan Stoker is also a must-attend event!

AP: Thanks for the advice. I’ll keep my eyes open for him.

AP: It’s practically a truism that writers want to give readings since sharing one’s work often validates a writer’s efforts. What would you most want writers and their audience members to understand and appreciate about the endeavor of making a performance space available to them? 

MN: I think the audience is there to be validated as well because just like with a concert or a play, the communal sharing of poetry is necessary. We can’t move forward as individuals or as a society without that process. I tell people that I work with in classes and at Beat Night that their poem isn’t done until they read it to an audience even if that audience is just one other person. 

I like to think of poetry as personal mythology and we need mythology to put our life in perspective. That connection between artist and audience  gives context to the moment we find ourselves in. For me it’s no less than a sacred rite that everyone should have the opportunity to participate in. You get to deliver your personal three minute mythology with a live band providing an original score and the audience experiences something they can’t get anywhere else. What’s better than that?

FL: From the musician’s perspective, it’s the writers who give us validation. We’re essentially jazz players – the play(ing)’s the thing for us, not crafting something in a studio and then replicating it exactly in performance, as with most popular music. We sincerely appreciate the chance to make live, spontaneous sounds.

AP: What are your future plans for Beat Night once we’re able to safely congregate in public again?

MN: The plan is to pick up where we left off and keep doing what we’ve been doing for 20 years. I’m really looking forward to seeing all the work that has come out of this situation and to be with our amazing community of misfits again. I think the first one back will be a two hour open mic with no features to let everyone get up and read their new stuff and feel the live connection again.

AP: What advice would you give to a New Hampshire resident who writes poetry but has yet to share his or her work at a public reading?

FL: Come to a Beat Night. Check it out. Sign up to read during the Open Mic. Just do it.

MN:  I would tell them that their work isn’t done until they share it. If you go to a concert, you can’t get up there and play your own song. If you go to a play, you can’t get on stage and do your own performance. But at an open mic poetry reading you can  stand up on stage and express yourself. You don’t have to have any education or training. You don’t need a list a publication credits. You just need you and your poem. I know it sounds scary and yes your heart will pound the first time but that’s what it feels like to grow. Come listen and be heard and you’ll find love in the audience and in yourself.

Covid Spring

I’m really excited and honored to be included in Covid Spring,
an anthology of Covid pandemic themed poems
by New Hampshire poets from New Hampshire State poet laureate Alexandria Peary and published by Hobblebush Books.

“Fifty-four of the state’s poets are represented in this anthology, writing of job loss, loneliness and love, masks, social distancing, surreal visitors, uncertainty, graduations deferred, grief, neighborly and less-than-neighborly acts, observing the beginning of the pandemic and making projections about the future, recalibrating or confirming what it means to be human, to be a resident of this region. In a remarkable range of poetic form and style, these writers provide a thirty-day snapshot of what life was like in the Granite State in April of 2020.” NH State Poet Laureate Alexandria Peary

Below is my contribution to Covid Spring which can be purchased from Hobblebush Books

Coronalove

A corona is a halo of light:
ring of fire of solar explosions,
aura of a holy person,
steady burn of the only love we’ve ever known.

Quarantine is a lazy pattern
of slowly bouncing off the walls.
Now, I would trade a lifetime of hug-less safety
for one warm deadly embrace.

The virus erases all borders.
No wall can mitigate its migration.
Segregated just out of reach by six feet of air.
Confined to the cages of our own homes.

There’s no change without pressure.
As the crushing gravitational fusion of hydrogen lights our star
so does the gravity of our situation break our hearts
to forge some new element.

We can’t go back to the way it was.
That was the path that led us here.
Cleaner air and water around the world
shows us an answer we’ve been looking for.

The drama, thriller, horror, comedy of this moment
can’t be watched from the couch.
Re-enter the wild world, rubbing our eyes in the sun
like newborn bees emerging from the honeycomb.

The nurse and the grocery clerk are all of us.
Despite their masks, I see them more clearly:
the corona glow around their holy heads;
the steady burn of the only love that’s ever mattered.

Mike Nelson

The Release of Lunation!

photo by Crystal Paradis

The release event for Lunation: A Good Fat Anthology of 114 Women Poets in South Church on International Women’s Day was amazing. We heard from eighteen poets from the book as well as local songwriting duo River Sister and the books sponsor Feminist Oasis

I believe that women are taking over the world and I want to help them do it. Because men can’t just stand by and watch women fight for equality and women’s rights and a better world. Because the problems that men have created will not be solved by men.

Some might say, that’s a lot to put on a book of poetry, but I don’t think so. Because there’s a revolution going on and poetry has always been part of the revolution. Poetry provides the very personal individual stories of that revolution. Poetry holds up a magnifying glass to all the granular feelings of the moment and poetry steps back and shows us the big picture. Poetry is the mythology of the moment. 

There is pain and suffering and anger in this book, and there is peace and joy and love; often, all in the same poem. This book is filled with the voices of women as they are in their lives right now. 

Brenna lilly, who’s in the book, in a post about this book and the event said, “WOMEN OWN POETRY – we are the story-tellers, the lineage-keepers, the ones who remember.” And history will remember these storytellers, these lineage keepers, at this moment, this lunation, as they cycle on and on into future.

Another more personal reason I wanted to make this book and do this event, I need to show my 16-year-old son, this is how you behave, this is how you listen, this is how you can participate in the revolution for a better world.

All my life, my best friends, my heroes, the ones that have taught me the most, have been women. And every one of the women in this book have become my friends and heroes and teachers as well, and I feel so lucky and grateful for that

Thank you Lauren WB Vermette for the title of the book. Thank you Taylore Dawn Kelly for allowing her incredible artwork to be on the cover. Thank you Crystal Paradis and her organization Feminist Oasis for putting her stamp of approval on this book and being its sponsor. And thank you Wendy Cannella for editing this book with me, for the beautiful foreword, and for putting up with me throughout the process. I had many insecure questions about how to put this book together. Some stuff she talked me into, some stuff she talked me out of. Nothing was done without her input. It would not be what it is without her. 

Also, thank you to the Portsmouth poet laureate program for supporting this project in every way including monetarily.

And thank you, most of all, to every woman in the book for trusting me and being a part of Lunation. 

You can purchase a copy of the book at Book and Bar in Portsmouth, NH or online at Senile Monk Press. The book is 14 dollars, which includes shipping, and don’t forget to leave your address. Lunation is part of the not-for-profit  Good Fat series of poetry publications and all money from the sale of the book goes to the PPLP to pay for the cost of production and printing and for future community building projects. 

Lunation: A Good Fat Anthology of 114 Women Poets and Book Release Celebration

Celebrate International Women’s Day with the Book Release of Lunation: A Good Fat Anthology of 114 Women Poets. Lunation is an epic gathering of women poets from the seacoast and beyond in one fierce and fiery publication six months in the making and culminating with a free and open to the public book release at South Church Portsmouth.

Along with readings of poems from the book by the poets who wrote them, amazing local band River Sister will be there as well as our incredible sponsor Feminist Oasis as part of the celebration. Books are free for the poets in the book and on sale to the public for 10 dollars.

The incredible artwork on the cover is by the brilliant Taylore Dawn Kelly

It’s more important than ever to listen to women and I’m so humbled and excited to release Lunation. Let’s fill South Church on March 8th with a community of love and support to revel in the voices of women and get inspired to create and take action. See you there!

Lunation, edited and assembled with help from Wendy Cannella, is my last project as Portsmouth poet laureate and is being published under The Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program and my label Senile Monk Press. Lunation is a not for profit community project and any money made from the public sale of the book goes back to the PPLP to cover printing costs and costs associated with the event. Any money left over after that is kept by the PPLP for future community building projects.

AND here are all the amazing women in the book!: Alice B. Fogel, Alice Lee Timmins, Alice Radin, Alicia Fisher, Alison Frisella, Alison Harville, Allie Fitzgerald, Amanda Giles, Angela Whiting, Ann Diller, Anne Mikusinski, Ayanna Gallant, Barbara Bald, Belle Ritzo, Beth Fox, Brenna Lilly, Briana Fischella, Cara Losier Chanoine, Carand Burnet, Carla Desrosiers, Carolyn Krieter-Foronda, Cate Dixson, Charlotte Cox, Chelsea Paolini, Cheryl Lang, Christine Kelly, Claire Ann Garand, Cleone T. Graham, Crystal Paradis, Elizabeth Carmer, Elizabeth Knies, Ella McGrail, Elly Guzikowski, Elsbeth Willis, Elyse Gallo, Erica Sousa, Felicia Nadel, Genevieve Aichele, Heather Dupont, Heather Tobin, Heidi Therrien, Hollie Hawk, Jaclyn Goddette, Jade Goulet, Jane Kaufmann, Jane Vacante, Jennifer Ryan Onken, Jenna Dion, Jess Waters, Jessica Purdy, Julie A. Dickson, Kate Leigh, Katherine Towler, Kathleen Clancy, Kayla Cash, Kelley White, Kimberly Cloutier Green, Kristen Ringman, L.J. Elitharp, Laila Ruffin, Laura Pope, Lauren WB Vermette, Lee Ann Dalton, Lesley Kimball, Lillian Zagorites, Linda M. Crate, Linda S. Betof, Lindsey Coombs, Liz Ahl, M. Petersen, Maren Tirabassi, Margo Harvey, Marie Harris, Marilynn Carter, Mary Anker, Mary Beth Hines, Mary Lewis Sheehan, Mary Lou Bagley, Marybeth McNamara, Maya Campbell, Maya Williams, Meg Smith, Mercy Carbonell, Mia Isabelle, Mimi White, Minta Ann Carlson, Monica Nagle, MP Kingsbury, Nancy Donovan, Nancy Jean Hill, Nancy Wheaton, Nicole Fortune, Pamela Marks, Patricia Callan, Patricia Frisella, Priscilla Cookson, Rachel Sicari, Regina Merullo, Rena Mosteirin, Rosemary Staples, S Stephanie, S. J. Whitehouse, Samantha Hayford, Sarah Anderson, Sue Repko, Susan LaFortune, Sylvia Olson, Tamara J. Collins, Tammi J.Truax, Taygra Longstaff, Terry Karnan, Theresa Monteiro, Trina Daigle, and Wendy Cannella

Poets in the Park 2018

Another Summer with Poets in the Park comes to a close. Thank you to our poets (clockwise from top left)  Ellie Guzikowski, Lauren WB Vermette, Alice Lee Timmins, Mercy Carbonell, Felicia Nadel, Myles Burr, Chelsea Paolini, Jess Waters, Brenna Lilly, Lillian Zagorites, Ezra Schrader, Matt Jasper, Claire Garand, John-Michael Albert and Nancy Modern.

Thank you Ben Anderson, President of Prescott Park Arts Festival for supporting local artists and sharing the big stage with us.

It was an honor to host this event for eight Thursdays in a row getting the poets and the audiences out of their comfort zones with work representing the LGBTQ experience.  And it was an honor for all of us to represent Seacoast Outright and all the incredible work they do to recognize and support the LGBTQ community on the seacoast.