MILTON, Ga. — Milton High School sophomore Aanika Eragam has been honored as a Georgia Poet Laureate’s Prize finalist.
Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn, in collaboration with Georgia Council for the Arts recently announced the 2019 winner and finalists. Eragam is one of the four finalists.
“It was very validating to know that someone had read my poem, and it resonated with them,” Eragam said. “It was nice to know that someone understood it, because poetry can be so out there.”
The prize is awarded to a Georgia high school student for an original poem. Last year’s winner Dagmawit “Bessi” Adamu and the 2017 winner Max Morella are also from Milton High School.
“Reading the submissions to the Poet Laureate Prize, I was amazed by both the quality and variety of poems being written by students across the state,” Rathburn said. “It’s clear that Georgia’s young poets have much to say about their experiences, their communities and the issues that matter to them, and that they have teachers who are dedicated to the literary arts…
“What sets our prize winner and finalists apart is their awareness of what poetry can do over other forms of written expression. Their poems use surprising language, charged images and careful, expressive lines.”
Eragam, who has a background in the sciences, said she started exploring the humanities last year and was inspired to try a new form of writing when she entered the contest.
“I wanted to challenge myself and do something different,” she said. “[Poetry] is not a set way or pattern of writing. The way you tell whatever it is you’re trying to say can be so impactful, just because you’re not in a mold. You don’t have to write in a certain way.”
Her poem “Coconut Promises” was inspired by a book she had recently read that featured a distant relationship between the main character and her mother.
“I see that a lot in media,” Eragam said. “I thought it would be very interesting to write a poem from that perspective, because I, personally, have never had a relationship like that. I wanted to see how I could portray a relationship that was more distant and the opposite of what I’m used to. I wanted to put myself into the mind of another person.”
She chose the coconut as a symbol for that distant relationship.
“In my culture, a coconut, when you crack it, if the inside is white and shining, that’s a good omen,” Eragam said. “If it’s bad and decayed, that’s a bad omen. I wanted the coconut to be a metaphor or representation of the promises the mother had broken.”
Eragam, an avid reader, said she will write more poetry and wants to try other forms of writing, such as fiction.
“Poetry is a wonderful form of art and expression,” she said. “The inspiration has to hit you. I don’t know exactly where I’ll go with it, but I’d like to keep writing in the future.”
This year’s Poet Laureate’s Prize winner is Marylou Sutherland from Hillgrove High School for her poem “until i am.” The other three finalists are:
• Rohini Bose from Lambert High School for her poem “Racehorses!”
• Jenna Keeler from Cass High School for her poem “love letter to the girl I will be”
• Sarah Lao from Westminster Schools for her poem “Room”
To learn more about the Poet Laureate’s Prize and read this year’s poems, visit gaarts.org.
By Aanika Eragam
Before she left, Mother packed her promises in a coconut,
told me not to break it till she was gone. So when she was,
I cracked the hickory shell open, held its splintered pieces in my hands.
But I never found the awaited meat, ebony and cream, glistening, glimmering— no,
only decaying flesh, charcoal and burnt, like her promises,
which I’ve begun stashing in the coffee jar she kept in the kitchen.
It’s growing rather fast, my collection, of all the things she’s broken with
each missed birthday, missed phone call, missed graduation,
you see, my mother was always clumsy.
But she comes back like a tidal wave each time I want to forget her,
shadow dancing in the fog of cigarette puffs, broken glass,
abandoned car lots. She is there— lingering, loitering,
behind every street sign, every lamppost, every crumbling home.
And it would be so easy if I could hate her so much
it didn’t hurt each time I heard her name or
love her so much it didn’t matter— but it does.
I am in limbo, and I cannot walk this tightrope
knowing she will not be there to catch me if I fall.
And I know she cannot be caged, cannot be anchored to this family
that is not a family anymore, just withering remains, decaying so slowly
people think it’s just the flush of the season. I want to ask her if
she remembers who I am, the soft syllables of my name,
the color of my skin, my hair. I want to ask her because I know each
valley of her body, more than I know the air I breathe.
And some days, I hide under her covers and inhale her memory,
pale and haunting, minty, she smells like fresh rain
and inebriated smog. I miss her like the Sun misses
the Moon each night, the sand the sea. I miss her but
I don’t want her back. I have no more pieces left
for her to break.