Meet New Hampshire’s new poet laureate

Jennifer Militello is New Hampshire's new poet laureate—a role she starts this month. Courtesy Jennifer Militello

By Katy Savage

April 4, 2024

Jennifer Militello knew she wanted to be a poet at a young age.

She still remembers the beginning of the first poem she wrote around age 11 or 12, called “Winter to Spring.”

Its first lines were:“Winter is coming, winter is near/ Howling wolves and hungry deer,” Militello said.

Back then, she wrote all her poems in calligraphy and kept them a secret for a long time.

“It was so incredibly bad,” Militello said. “Bad poems, bad calligraphy.”

Militello, who grew up in Rhode Island, was inspired by renowned poet and New Hampshire resident Robert Frost, especially his “Birches” poem. It was the reason she wanted to be a poet in the first place.

She saw New Hampshire as a place where she could have the things she valued most—“the mountains, the woods and also, all of these words,” she said.

As a kid, Militello often came to New Hampshire for hiking and skiing. She knew she wanted to live in the Granite State as an adult.

“My goal was to live in the middle of the woods and write poems,” she said. “New Hampshire alway struck me as a state that seemed to be filled with poetry and poets.”

She made her dream a reality, attending the University of New Hampshire and studying under Charles Simic, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who happened to be teaching there at the time.

An award-winning poet today, Militello now lives in Goffstown. She was recently named New Hampshire’s new poet laureate, a governor-nominated position that she’ll begin this month. She will serve as an ambassador for all poets in New Hampshire through the next five years.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” she said. “I mean, I was just 100% jumping up and down.”

Militello plans to create a digital archive of New Hampshire poets during her tenure, ensuring their poems will be widely available. She also wants to launch a poetry festival in the state, similar to the New Hampshire Poetry Festival, which took a hiatus during the pandemic. She especially wants to connect with young poets.

“I want to remind them that there’s a larger community, a larger network of poets, going back for such a long time,” she said. “It’s been a state of poets.”

The support of young people is important to Militello. After getting her undergraduate degree, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to make it as a poet. She considered going to law school to make her parents happy.

But, after seeing a poster for an MFA program in creative writing and poetry, she changed her mind.

Her poetry was published in small publications after college, before they found a home in more reputable journals, like the Paris Review and Virginia Quarterly Review in her early 20s.

“When that happened, I said to myself, ‘I might actually be able to do this,’” she said.

Since 2009, she’s published five books of poems while also working as an associate professor and director of the MFA program at New England College.

While her earlier poems were more about relationships and family experiences, her poems today are more outward facing and socially conscious.

Her newest book, “Identifying the Pathogen,” will come out next year. It’s filled with prose poems, like “AntiSocial Media,” which talks about the digital experiences and another, “Opinion,” about the ways different viewpoints have influenced the country.

One of her newest poems, “Mansplaining,” is one she’s most proud of. It paints a sardonic picture about the women’s widespread experience with mansplaining. It’s been used in schools throughout the country.

“So many young students have responded to it,” Militello said. “It speaks to them to the point where they want to memorize it and recite it—that’s part of the purpose of poetry—to have other people feel like they can live inside a poem.”

Militello tries to write for at least 15 minutes a day, though if she had her choice, she said she’d start writing at 10 p.m. and finish at 4 a.m.

“I’m very much a night person,” she said.

She doesn’t put much pressure on herself to find words. Militello just starts typing whatever comes to mind.

“That often leads to my most successful moments,” she said.”There’s that brain in there doing its work and sometimes you don’t know what it’s thinking or saying until you give it the space to kick out whatever it needs to kick out.”

In her new role as poet laureate, she wants to support aspiring poets in the ways she’s been supported.

“Somebody at some point gave me the gift of support as I was a poet trying to figure out my way,” she said. “I figure if I can return that favor and be a presence of support in the community.”

Author

  • Katy Savage

    Katy Savage is an award-winning reporter with more than 10 years of experience working in daily, weekly and digital news organizations as both an editor and reporter. Based in Enfield, Katy is a New England native and has a passion for telling stories about where she grew up.

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