Meet Your Neighbor: Martin Steingesser – First Poet Laureate of Portland – and Hill resident

By Carol McCracken

Time spent with Martin Steingesser is time wisely spent. He’s a poet, performer and poetry teacher. Sometimes the roles overlap. And that’s when time spent with Martin flies – it truly flies. This 72 year old man is fun to hang out with.

One minute he’s performing one of his poems in a magical way that stays with the beneficiary indefinitely. Then he tells you that skill in writing is necessary, but unless the writer is “open and present,” the craftsmanship won’t resonate. Next he’s reading a poem he’s just written to see if it hits home. “We don’t choose our wounds. It’s how they find us – where and when,“ Martin reads in part from his new poem. It hits home.

As MHN explains to Martin at the outset of the interview at the Hilltop Coffee Shop several weeks ago, that this 67 year old gray- haired grandmother type has never been a reader of poetry. “Poetry has been so spoiled by our early exposure to it in schools. They‘ve ruined our early exposure to it,” Martin says. “Poems speak to everyone. There is a poem out there for everyone, but people don’t believe that. It’s just that not everyone likes every movie they see,” he adds, putting to rest MHN’s issues on the subject.

Martin writes to satisfy a deeper need of his own. “I keep things close to me because I have no place to put them, except in my poetry,” he says. Putting these feelings into his poetry makes them “tangible.” However, he’s quick to add that not everything in his poetry is held so dear, but that’s because we are out in the world and the world needs to be addressed as well.

Martin arrived at the Hilltop with good news. He’s just been awarded 4th place in a poetry contest in Connecticut. However, he’s disappointed that that placement did not come with a monetary reward. Fourth place out of 100 entries ain’t bad, though! In 2002, Martin published a book of poetry – “Brothers of Morning.” (Published by Deerbrook Editions in North Yarmouth at $12.00.) He hopes to combine new poetry with the award winning poetry into a new book in the near future.

Chris Bowe, co-owner of Longfellow Books, recently said: “Martin has done more for poetry in Portland than just about anyone else.” When he performs his poetry, “his eyes become magical and he becomes someone else. He’s such a good person that he’s a wonderful first Poet Laureate for Portland.” Longfellow Books maintains a selection of cards upon which Martin’s poetry has been written – for a small fee.

Originally from New York City, Martin has lived in Maine since 1981. His “biographical outline” is vast; including exhibitions, awards as well as his teaching and performance background. Currently, Martin teaches a poetry class for high schoolers at Thorton Academy in Saco. Meantime, MHN is reading a book Martin referred to: Shambhala The Sacred Path of the Warrior, by Chogyam Trungpa. Time also wisely spent!

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