Area Students Recognized for Peace Poems
“Peace is being able to listen for a still small voice in the midst of chaos. It’s your voice. Whatever voice that may be,” Diannely Antigua, a former Haverhill resident and alumna of Northern Essex Community College, told the winners of the NECC 8th Annual Peace Poetry Contest and their friends and family when she was the guest speaker Friday, May 6.
“Whether it’s loud, quiet, funny, sad. It’s a voice worth searching for. I searched for a voice to explain myself,” the New York University (NYU), graduate student told the standing-room-only crowd. “I searched for a voice to explain my body, my color, my hair. My language, how Spanish and English lived peacefully on my same tongue.”
The poems of four area students, ranging from grade 4 to college level, were selected from more than 1,000 entries to win the contest.
Antigua, who is now enrolled in NYU’s Master of Fine Arts – Creative Writing program, shared her personal reflections on the role of poetry and peace in the world. She read a poem she wrote titled, “Another rice and beans story” about her summers spent at her grandmother’s Lawrence apartment where she would chase the ice cream truck, as well as one of her favorite poems “won’t you celebrate with me,” by Lucille Clifton, which she says she recites to herself nearly every day.
The authors and their winning poems are K-2 – “The Dove” Finn Stinson, Grade 2, Sparhawk School, Amesbury; 3-5 – “The Everlasting Battle,” Alva Yanowitz, Grade 5, Sanborn Elementary School, Andover; 6-8 – “Hands of Change,” Madeline Lembo, of Exeter, NH, Grade 7, Hampstead Academy, Hampstead, NH; 9-12 – “Our Disturbance,” Amanda Toussaint, Grade 12, Methuen High School, Methuen; Adult – “Inner Peace,” Judith Delano, NECC Alumna, Hampstead, NH.
The contest, organized by NECC English Professor Paul Saint – Amand, is sponsored by the NECC English department, Division of Foundational Studies and Liberal Arts & Sciences, and the Office of the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs.
Saint-Amand, a Vietnam-era veteran who is committed to peace, introduced this peace poetry concept more than 30 years ago when he was teaching in upstate New York. When Saint-Amand relocated to Gloucester and began teaching at NECC, he brought the contest with him.
“Peace is a difficult and often evasive virtue, and sometimes it takes a child to get us to see that vision of hope and peace,” wrote Saint-Amand in the foreword of the chapbook featuring nearly 90 entries. “The poems we received give voice to this vision as expressed in everyday life – deep feelings about who the poets are in relationship to others and to the world…Consider that to write about peace is always an act of generosity…writing about peace is also a first step to seeing a possible future.”
Students in grades kindergarten through 12, both from public and private schools in Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, as well as adults affiliated with the schools, and NECC students, are invited each year to create and submit original poems in the Peace Poetry Contest. Many of the poems are published in a chapbook.
In closing, Antigua told the winners she believes in poetry and its power.
“I am a firm believer in the responsibility of art. It is the connective tissue of the world,” she says. “Poetry can be the blood, bringing life to that body. Poetry is big. Poetry can contain multitudes, it doesn’t play favorites. It has room for everyone. It has room for me, it has room for you.”