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Headliner Spotlight: Diannely Antigua

Many of our headliners are based in New England, but nobody's more local for us than Diannely Antigua, who not only lives nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where she serves as poet laureate, but also teaches poetry here at UNH's English Department as our inaugural Nossrat Yassini Poet in Residence. Her first book, Ugly Musiccame out via YesYes Books in 2019; its follow-up, Good Monsteris forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press, and will be available at the Festival. Antigua's work has an intimate feel, often reflecting on personal experiences and inner emotional life, and not shying away from the turbulant and troubling.

I've selected "Another Poem About Nature But Really, It's About Me" as an example of this mode, a play on the pastoral tradition, where "nature" is seen separate existence from the alienating excesses of "culture", a place to turn for spiritual insght and nourishment. In this poem, however, it doesn't take long for that peace to be disturbed by a centipede, which humously reminds the speaker of a not-missed ex, intensifying a sense of not belonging, as an urbanite, in this "log cabin/ in the woods where the squirrels are actually startled." The trap here is not the town as opposed to the country, but the haunting sense of inauthenticity that comes with living, whether by choice or circumstance, a life other than the one expected of you: "I was supposed to be/ a preacher’s wife, skirt to my ankles[...]/ I was supposed to be a mother." Rather than finding solace in these creatures who simply are what they are, Antigua's speaker feels jealous, even of the centipede, who, unlike themselves, can be easily disposed of. Here the return to nature doesn't heal a lost disintegration—it only highlights the abyss of our freedom. It's quite melancholy, but I find the poem oddly affirming—there's some consolation in the fact that we can write about all this, and, if only retrospectively, invent an anchor for ourselves in a confusing life.

Diannely Antigua will read on Friday, April 12, at the 7 PM reading in the Dimond Library's Courtyard Reading Room. Check our Schedule page for more info about the Festival's offerings, and the Featured Poets page for a full bio.

I'd also reccomend Antigua's lovely podcast, Bread and Poetry, in which she speaks with poets about their lives, work, and, of course, their favorite bread. 

—Matthew Mallory Dinaro