Music Librarian is Newest Portsmouth Poet Laureate
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
April 27, 2011
John-Michael Albert���s mother was always quoting Shakespeare out of context. ���Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!��� was her way of getting him out of the house. It was only later that he realized it was from ���Macbeth.��� By then, poetry was in his blood.
Albert is the equipment manager and music librarian at UNH. He also has just been named Portsmouth���s eighth poet laureate, a two-year tenure that will have him serving as the community���s face of poetry.
It is a face he has worn since childhood.
���I remember sitting in my bed making up poems when I was in the 4th grade,��� Albert says. ���My parents would send us to bed at 7:30 and we could do whatever we wanted as long as we stayed in bed so I���d make up poems.��� He cites this one from those days: ���Wash the dishes, clean the floor, do the woodwork, still do more.���
���Obviously, rhythms spoke to me,��� he says.
As did music. In fact, to Albert, who has a degree in music, poetry and music are inseparable.
���The marriage of music and words is so absolute to me, I cannot hear one without the other,��� he says.
He has published 40 compositions and spent 15 years conducting a men���s chorus in Texas. In all ways, his voice is his instrument. During the last 10 years he has had more than 160 poems published including the collections ���Two-Ply and Extra Sensitive��� and ���Vivaldi for Breakfast.���
���I write a lot of poems,��� Albert says. ���A good year will end with around 300 poems. Then I start revising and halfway through the next year, I���ll have 40 or 50 that work.���
Part of the reason he is so prolific is because of this philosophy: nothing is ordinary.
���Everything has a poem in it. It���s the poet���s obligation to show and surprise people with what they already know,��� Albert says. ���And it���s a writer���s obligation to write in as many voices as possible. If you want me to write meter, I���ll do it. If you want me to write slam, I���ll do it.���
Because of the way poetry is often taught in school (typically, a poem is introduced and then the class spends two weeks dissecting it) people come to think of poetry as arduous.
���It���s not introduced in drunken reverie. The world is awash with poetry. If it comes at you, you keep ingesting it,��� Albert says. ���Pretty soon, there���s a giant sea you���re comfortable swimming around in.���
Albert arrived in New Hampshire in 1999 when, he says, poetry was just beginning to explode. It was the same year Portsmouth���s Poetry Hoot started. Albert soon became a host. He also joined the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and in 2008, he edited ���The Poets��� Guide to New Hampshire,��� a two-volume set of 400 poems by 300 poets on all things New Hampshire.
As poet laureate, Albert is charged with developing a project that promotes creating community through poetry. While he hasn���t yet settled on what that might be, he is partial to public literary programs like the Poetry Society of America���s Poetry in Motion. Launched in 1992, Poetry in Motion has poetry appearing in subway and transit systems around the country.
���To get poetry in front of people in this way���it���s like being ambushed by verse. You go through the day in the kind of daze we all go through and something jumps out at you and you realize it���s not an ad, it���s a poem. Maybe one line. And it makes you take a second and remember there is beauty in everything,��� he says.
Summer Lunch on the Footpath
from Two-Ply and Extra Sensitive
the breezes, the shade
the cold but comfortable brick bench
turkey-ham on cracked wheat
with mustard (or not)
the crust offered to the chipmunks.
maybe Fritos, maybe a banana,
maybe a plastic Coke bottle filled
at the men���s room sink
on the way out to lunch;
a book of poems, a novel,
always a few sheets of scratch paper
(just in case);
and little green pellets showering
from the crowns of the maples
onto my floppy white hat,
into the between-page creases:
cast-offs of the ceaseless work
of next year���s butterflies, next year���s moths;
and an anxious prayer that someone
might stop the University clock
before it Westminsters me back to my desk.