Gulfport residents may think they know Sam Henderson. He is the affable second-term mayor of Gulfport and often seen around the city in his official capacity, or enjoying art gallery openings and other events around town. Despite his high visibility, many locals may not be aware of his diverse interests.
Henderson, an environmental science major with a Master’s Degree in Florida Studies, brings his understanding of environmental issues to the table in his role as mayor. He bartends at The Historic Peninsula Inn on Monday and Wednesday nights. He has spent the last five years in a popular local band, Hot Tub Club, with his wife, Laura, performing in area bars and restaurants as a vocalist while writing song lyrics for the band. Now Henderson has been selected as Gulfport’s second poet laureate, which was made official at the city council meeting on December 6.
“What really stood out this year is that all five judges unanimously voted for Sam’s poems,” said Margie Davis of the Circle of Friends of the Gulfport Public Library and founder of the poet laureate program. “One judge remarked ‘I felt like these were poems for the people.’ Sam’s upbeat poetry contains striking imagery that stimulates the senses. Delightful rhythms, original energy and emotive passion marks Sam’s work. His poems have descriptive elements that the people of Gulfport can relate to.”
Henderson says he is looking forward to his new gig.
“Being poet laureate will be enjoyable,” says Henderson. “Writing is something I would like to do more of. Since I’ve been on the council, I’ve had less time to write. Now I just write songs for the band. Although I mostly write for me, it’s nice when other people like my writing too.”
A committee of five people, appointed by the Circle of Friends, read three anonymous submissions from each poet before making a selection.
“When I submitted last year, I didn’t want bias so I used my middle and last name. I didn’t want the committee choosing me because I was the mayor or not choosing me because I was the mayor,” says Henderson. “But I was told that no one on the committee sees the names of the poets until a selection has been made.”
When asked whether his poet laureate duties will interfere with his mayoral responsibilities, Henderson says he will be able to attend to both.
“Due to our city’s type of government, being mayor is not a 9 to 5 job in terms of hours spent. The mayor position is a separate duty from being poet laureate,” he says. “I’m excited the Circle of Friends started the poet laureate program. Gulfport is a very arts-driven community. There is a lot of visual art, and it will be nice to also have a focus on the artistry of writing.”
Henderson already has two poet laureate appearances lined up for the new year, with dates to be announced. In January, there will be an event at the Gulfport Public Library sponsored by the Circle of Friends to showcase all poets who submitted poems for the poet laureate position.
“I went to readings when Peter Hargitai served as Gulfport’s poet laureate,” he says. “There are many talented writers within the Gulfport community.”
Henderson will be featured at The Ink Tank Literary Afternoon at The Blueberry Patch in February in conjunction with FringeFest. He says he also wants to work with students in some capacity.
“Writing has always been a great outlet for me from middle school on. It is the one artistic thing that has been consistent from childhood to now,” he says. “My thing is to encourage people to do the same. It sounds kind of boring to say ‘go read poetry with the mayor.’ I’d rather share writing.”
Poems by Sam Henderson
Crisp October air lilts through my window screen,
Cooling my face from the humidity that still hangs on,
Floating to my ears the distortions and edges of the night noises.
The many chirping insects – the percussion and rhythm section – lay down the groove,
Keep time through the stops, then set the orchestra in motion again.
The compressed then elongated Doppler samples,
laid in and out of time from orbiting car radios.
The grumble of tires treading down the brick streets, fading voices rise and fall.
Anger, laughter, surprise – Exclamations and chatter from other open windows in other wooden boxes.
From the alleys.
Sirens swirl in and out, from the East in Child’s Park,
Always an accompaniment to the chorus.
Strains of stringed instruments and drum skins from the Blueberry Patch on the right nights.
Flutes of eerie birdsong play dissonant fills.
Twigs and acorns pop underfoot as the midnight walkers pass, glimpses of some indistinguishable conversation.
“Oh sh*t!” he says.
“I know.” She says.
Muffled fade of the spoken word.
No staccato cracks like rimshots from across 49th St. tonight.
And always the dogs yip and howl, maintaining their watchful network from block to block.
They follow the undulating sirens and the loud cycle pipes,
The ruckus guaranteed to set off the canine call and response.
Then, for brief moments, everything drops out.
Leaving the tree frogs and cicadas to hold down the beat until the bridge comes around again.
Then, when the unseen moonlight maestro gives the sign, everybody comes back in, on the one, two, three…
You should hear it on the 4th of July.
The Sun is Shining
The sun shines on me today, and my worries don’t mean a thing
I’ve got happiness in my heart, filled to overflowing.
Mermaids in the water like dragonflies hovering behind stained glass.
Cirrus clouds reflecting in the ripples.
I feel strong when the weather hits this way.
Sun blazing, putting light into every breath of air,
Flashing like mirrors deep in my open eyes.
Seems impossible that something like trouble could even exist.
Like hard days are only a vague memory.
This is our story.
This is how we build joy.
One smile at a time. One more laugh in a fluid line of wit, revelry and jest.
These easy moments give life back to me, restore my balance.
We spend our days chasing money, struggling for traction,
Battling to keep our grip on the slippery handhold leading to the invisible summit.
It is so good that we make this time to simply appreciate the beauty of who we are,
In the center of life’s confounding mysteries.
It is so good to have this level of love, where it is so tangible as to feel like a cozy place.
Something luscious that deserves a name.
I am thankful for this state of mind.
I hold it dear.
You wild and beautiful ones who smooth out my wrinkles,
Untie my knots,
Calm my chaos,
Replenish the empty silos at the core of my being.
You make the sun to shine on me for all my days.
Everybody wants to be Free
Everybody wants to be free, from Gulfport Florida to the Red Sea
Everybody has someone they love, from the busboy to the governor to the drunk on the street.
To the left, to the right, to the fringes of humanity,
Someone has a friend on the firing line and a piece of themselves at stake.
I feel my soul quake
In its foundations because no one is out to make peace with the nations.
It’s a filthy field of dollar signs and “taking what is mine” mentality.
Everybody loves their children if they have a soul worth sharing,
And I have to believe that everyone I meet is one of my people,
Disregarding country lines and no trespassing signs
And being hopefully the first to lay my life aside if I can ease the suffering.
Stop fueling the hate
And laying blame, and seeking retribution ten-fold for the slain.
Do you know your history, while you get spoonfed the words designed for your eager ears?
Is it only fascinating if it stimulates fear?
Everybody wants to be free.
Not to be you or me
But to follow in the footsteps of no one.
We make the world we live in everyday
Through our decisions, in what we say and don’t say.
I can’t bear to see children die
While mothers fall to their knees, families wail and cry.
We can’t bear tyrants in any guise, and succumb to poisonous lies.
Think for yourself.
The voice in your head could be conscience screaming out,
With the message that brutality and strength are not a duet that issues into life.
I don’t want a bank of oil wells and respect by the knife.
I want to wake up with my wife and be glad to be alive.
I want to feel my daughter’s arms squeezing me like her favorite toy.
My mother and father should grow old and comfortable by my side,
And someone like me, from another hemisphere, from another tribe
Knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Language is our great divide.
Raise your hands if you’re willing to be patient with our differences,
Put your arms to the sky and close your eyes.
Try to remember the last time that violence was a good answer.
I love America, but I love more the world of which we are a part
Because we are all human
To our uncertain ends from our uncertain start,
And all we have in common is our minds and our hearts.
Don’t call me naïve.
Don’t call me ex-patriot.
Call me ashamed of how we rule the land, with an absent soul and a heavy hand.
Call me intolerant of having our destiny shaped
By tyrants with their mouths agape.
Think about who pulls the strings,
Why this puppet show stings us in our homes and cars,
While we file our taxes and tend our yards.
It eats us alive.
Everybody wants to be free.
To have a say in how they live, to be treated as well as the king on the hill.
To be able to walk the earth,
To give birth
To give thanks
To give help.
Be true to yourself, and be true to your neighbor,
True to your labor,
True to the duty of being a member of this canopy of life that we hold in our hands
As a gift.
Everybody wants to be free, from Gulfport Florida to the Red Sea.