The poem grabs you from the first line and never lets go:
Some of us slip into the world like secrets.
Livia Durdia of Manchester wrote “How Do We Repay Our Mothers” and a series of other poems that won first place in this year’s Peter Millimet Creative Writing Award.
Alice Fogel, New Hampshire Poet Laureate, started judging the submissions in 1986 when she was a graduate student in poetry at the University of New Hampshire.
“I love reading things by young people,” Fogel said, “I love hearing what they are thinking about and seeing what teachers are exposing them to as far as how to write a poem, what is a poem, what content can a poem have in it…”
Durdia, who graduated this spring from Manchester Central High School, came to this country with her family from Albania when she was three years old. Her writing made an immediate impression on the state’s poet laureate.“She was just amazing. I was pretty blown away by her,” Fogel said.
“While Livia Durdia writes about powerful subjects like the loss of a mother, a change of nationality or the assertion of individual strengths,” Fogel wrote in comments that accompanied the award, “it is her imagination, language, and individual voice that elevate these poems…”
There is a lump in my throat made of roses, regret, milk and honey…
Durdia said that the award was an affirmation.
When she learned that she had won, she said, “I was ecstatic, actually, because I never thought of myself as a good writer.”
We had our own flower language. I gave my mother roses to say “This is for the times you carried me up and down mountains alone and after dark in an unfamiliar city after your arranged marriage because I was sick.”
Fogel said the very existence of such an award makes the statement to students that “poetry matters.”
“I just think it’s really wonderful that this award exists and I am really happy to be part of it and in some way keep it going,” Fogel said.
The Peter Millimet Creative Writing Fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation was created in 1976 by Joseph Allen Millimet and Elizabeth Gingras Millimet of Manchester to honor their son, Peter Joseph Millimet, who died in a car accident when he was just 23. The fund makes the annual awards, which are focused on poetry, possible.
“They saw it as his legacy,” said daughter Lisa Gray Millimet, “and as something to honor their beloved and remarkable son, paying tribute to his life in a way that would continue to support young people — young people who might go on to do what meant so much to Peter: thinking and writing, especially poetry.”
She said that, had he lived, her brother would have gone on to be a major writer or scholar, or both.
Three monetary awards and two honorable mentions are given annually to students from Manchester high schools. Marie O’Neil and Mary Darby won second and third place, respectively. Ben Pinard and Rachel Gamache were selected for honorable mentions.
Durdia put the award money into her college fund — she is heading to Simmons College in the fall to study political science and go on to a master’s in public policy. And, she said, she will “definitely” continue to write poems.
“I never really believed that I had something to say before” the award, Durdia said. And now: “I feel like I have so much to say.”
Our mothers were buried in the coffee and the spices but they found ways to breathe and so did we…