2012-04-20 / Front Page

Maine poet laureate visits city library

By Kristy Wagner
Staff Writer

The South Portland Public Library kicked off National Poetry Month with readings from authors in the library’s writing group and an appearance by Maine’s Poet Laureate Wesley McNair. Not only is April a month of poetry, but last week was also National Library Week, so Joyce Doyle, library staff member and freelance writer, was especially excited to organize the event.

“(The writers’ group) is such a cool mix of different perspectives and styles of writing,” Doyle said. “We have people who write a lot or are picking it up after years.”

The writers’ group meets at the library on the third Saturday of every month and Doyle organized the group one year ago at the suggestion of library patron Susan Landry.

“It’s nice because some of the people who were here at that first meeting are still coming,” Landry said.

Doyle said the group has about 25 members, but not all of them attend every meeting. There are about 10 writers who form a core group of regulars at the meetings, Doyle said.

“They don’t just show up, they look forward to it,” Doyle said. “They are not all from South Portland, but most are. We are drawing from beyond at this point.”

Doyle and the group hosted a public reading at the library in fall and Maine author Melissa Coleman was the guest reader. Coleman wrote the memoir, “This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family’s Heartbreak.” The group wanted to host another reading in April, and being National Poetry Month, they thought Wesley McNair would be a great guest author.

Doyle thought McNair would be busy during poetry month, but he agreed immediately to read and speak at the event.

“I guess we thought of him early enough because I sent him an e-mail and he said sure,” Doyle said.

Six writers from Doyle’s writing group read Thursday night and McNair read last. Readers wrote from various genres, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction essays and memoir. The theme of the reading was “Words and Pictures” and each writer’s piece was inspired by a photo or piece of artwork.

Tammisa Meserve, 17, of South Portland, wrote a poem about a painting that she did. She set the painting up on an easel for the audience to see while she read her poem.

Steve Berry of Lisbon writes poems about the ocean and is an avid scuba diver. He read a poem about an experience he had with a pilot whale while diving and he displayed a photo of a scuba diver with a right whale.

Elaine Parker of South Portland said she writes memories from her childhood. She chose two propaganda images from World War II and read a memoir about her recollections of Pearl Harbor, women going without nylons for the war effort, terrifying air raid drills at her school and her nightmares of the “enemy” coming after her in the night, which she said was instigated by war propaganda posted everywhere she went.

Mike Torrusio, a freelance writer published in several magazines, read a nonfiction piece about the last nautical trip of his career delivering boats from the Florida Keys to Maine. He displayed a picture of the sea taken during one of his trips on the Atlantic route he read about.

Dan Mishkin, a preschool teacher, read two poems and used a photo of himself running a road race in one photo and another photo depicting archery, one of his hobbies.

Peter Rhinehardt, a teacher, read a chapter from a fictional novel he is working on. His young daughter sat in the audience to support her father.

Barbara Ryland of South Portland read a poem about a tree near her home that she calls the “Tree of Life.”

“(The reading) is not just for high intellectuals. It’s very community oriented and inspirational,” Ryland said before she read on Thursday.

McNair said he was pleased to read among fellow poets.

“I was especially encouraged that I am reading with six others and that most of them are poets because since becoming poet laureate I have come to discover that the literary scene in the state, especially with poets, is very active,” McNair said.

McNair, who lives in Mercer, has a column that he runs in a handful of Maine newspapers called “Take Heart.”

“It features a previously published poem every week by a Maine poet,” McNair said. “So far we haven’t run out of poets yet or good work. Tonight I feel like I have the inside track learning about new poets.”

He said one of the major goals of “Take Heart” is to make Maine poets more visible.

McNair was appointed poet laureate in March 2011 and will serve a five-year term. The Maine Arts Commission appointed McNair, but he said he received many nominations.

“I felt as if it wasn’t just a decision made inside a closet and that there was some support there,” he said.

McNair said his small town life in Mercer inspires much of his work.

“(Mercer) is a country town very representative of what most of Maine life is like,” McNair said. “I derive a lot of my poetry from little towns in Maine and their people.”

The Poet Laureate read poems he felt illustrated his life as a poet and his experience becoming who he is today as a writer.

Poems read by McNair included, “The Rules of the New Car,” “How I Became a Poet,” and “Making Things Clean,” among others. His poems were both personal experiences and his experiences observing other people. McNair explained that “life is pretty much ‘plan B’” and his poetry reflects how living and learning shaped his work.

“Since poems come slowly, it’s a kind of life that develops slowly,” McNair said. “It’s gratifying, but gratification comes later on in life rather than instantly – poetry unfolds as life unfolds.”

Staff Writer Kristy Wagner can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 219.

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