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Saying The Unsayable - The Poetry Of Jennifer Militello

Joanne Smith
Jennifer Militello

In honor of National Poetry month, NHPR's Sean Hurley is introducing us to a New Hampshire poet every Friday.  Today we hear from Jennifer Militello.  The Goffstown native has recently published her second book of poetry - "Body Thesaurus."

While her relatives gathered for coffee in her grandmother's kitchen, 9 year old Jennifer Militello would sneak off into a back room to read aloud from the two books she found there.  A heavy collection of Edgar Allen Poe and a slimmer volume of Emily Dickinson.

And Dickinson, especially, opened up an entire world for me. The world of poetry. I realized, first of all, that she was expressing things that I already felt and I realized suddenly that those things could be expressed. So she was saying what I thought was unsayable.

Decades later Dickinson continues to be, as Militello calls her, a polestar.

It's why I write lyric poems and why I push language - because I understand there has to be a resonance in what happens on the page to capture the range of what happens in our experience.

Militello says her poems can begin as simple images or even a single word. And sometimes they gather from the metaphor lurking in an unfamiliar idea.

For example I was in London recently and I came across the concept of the plimsoll line? Which is the line when you're loading a ship. If you load it so that it's so that it's so heavy the water is above that line, that's the danger line. And I thought that's a concept I can use.

Once or twice a year a poem will emerge raw and almost whole, but Militello says finishing any poem bring her to a similar experience.

There's a sense of completion, satisfaction, significance, and from that comes an energy of joy that I get for maybe 7 minutes (laughs) and then it's back to work.

Here's Jennifer Militello describing the origins of, and reading her poem "Until We Have No Children".

I wrote my first book in Nashua, New Hampshire and I had an apartment there that was within walking distance of this graveyard that was the only place that had trees in Nashua and I went there sometimes when I felt I missed trees.

Until We Have No Children

And the loveliness goes hand in hand with the graveyard,
if only at this time of year. No airplane or insects
or afterthought. No place for things to happen.

Out of all the pigeons that rise up at once,
the one becomes a lantern. The only lanterns
are made of late cocoons, and of the roaming,

and of the eye. Even the sky must remember itself
as it comes through the leaves, crimson
with its own incredible hold. Even the fearful

must learn to fear; there must be light by which
to darken rooms, with shoulders unlike shoulders,
hands unlike hands. There must be jars

fired to be broken, napkins folded, checks
cancelled, children crying in the street. There
must be motels to make one think of loneliness.

But, no. It’s autumn. Time to hear the clear bell,
heavy bell, above the bent oxen. Nothing
resembles the lovers like their dove-like necks.

“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, "Robert Frost once wrote, "the poem must ride on its own melting.”  In the poetry of Jennifer Militello, light darkens rooms, jars are made to be broken. Things are what they eventually become.  

Read more about Jennifer Militello at her website.

Sean Hurley lives in Thornton with his wife Lois and his son Sam. An award-winning playwright and radio journalist, his fictional “Atoms, Motion & the Void” podcast has aired nationally on NPR and Sirius & XM Satellite radio. When he isn't writing stories or performing on stage, he likes to run in the White Mountains. He can be reached at
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