Poet Diannely Antigua may well remember 2019 as the year of her alma maters.
On Wednesday afternoon at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, the 2008 graduate will read from and talk about her debut poetry book, “Ugly Music.”
In April, she spoke at New York University, where in 2017 she earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.
Later this fall, she’s slated to speak at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where in 2011 she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English.
“I’m checking off the places,” Antigua said, sitting on a bench in Newburyport’s Market Square as a busker in the distance strums and sings oldies.
It’s midafternoon on a hot day at the end of September.
Antigua, 30, who was born and raised in Haverhill, now lives in West Newbury. She’s dressed for her upcoming shift across the street at Sea Level Oyster Bar.
Memories — moments — bubble in her poems, telling it like it is. Like it was. Like it was and is.
Antigua said that she is related to the speaker in her poems, but the speaker isn’t her in the present moment.
Along these lines, she fishes a book from her bag and finds a poem of hers. It’s called “Picked” and begins:
“As I watch a man steal fruit on the corner/ of Myrtle Ave and Broadway, I want to know/ what to do with the memory, days of the week/ underwear, the hand cupping the small cones/ over my grey t-shirt, feeling/ for the raised tip, pink eraser bud not yet/ brown.”
The speaker associates the fruit stealing with childhood memories, traumatic events in the living room or around the house, recollections made all the more powerful for the mundane circumstances.
Antigua, a Dominican American writer, has been penning poetry since age 9. She has filled more than 36 journals over the years, exploring short story and memoir and poetry writing.
As a child, she would go to the Haverhill Public Library with her mom, a bilingual librarian. Young Diannely volunteered to shelve books.
She liked to read. Especially mysteries, including Nancy Drew stories. A favorite was “The Secret of the Old Clock.”
A turning point in her writing life came years later in a biology class at NECC. She was writing about a disease, primary ciliary dyskinesia. Her teacher said her writing sounded poetic.
“I was like, ‘OK, everything I’m doing seems to be poetic in some way, so maybe that’s something I should be doing,’” Antigua said.
She earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts, writing, at NECC.
Poetry gave Antigua a voice when she felt unable to express herself. She grew up in a sheltered environment, attended a small Christian school and felt she had to keep things quiet, she said.
She has experienced trauma and battled depression and anxiety, and is not afraid to talk about it.
“I just say it like it is,” she said.
She hopes her poetry speaks to and helps listeners.
“Ugly Music” was published by YesYes Books in 2019 and won the Pamet River Prize.
Antigua’s works have appeared in publications, including Washington Square Review, Bennington Review and The Adroit Journal. She is the recipient of several fellowships and a nominee for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net.
IF YOU GO
What: Poetry reading featuring Diannely Antigua
When: Wednesday, 2 to 3:15 p.m.
Where: Northern Essex Community College, Spurk Building, Pentucket Bank Lecture Hall, 100 Elliott St., Haverhill
How much: Free
More information: www.diannelyantigua.com
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