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Review - Refugees Welcome: poems in a time of crisis

Refugees Welcome – poems in a time of crisis. Edited by Oliver Jones. Eyewear: 20/20 special edition (2015)

“We like the idea of the South. / Until it knocks on our door.” (Rishi Dastidar) This is the first stanza of the first poem in this small and powerful anthology.

Poems take risks, make generalizations, in order to get to the defining element of psycho/social reality. Politics assumes it speaks on behalf of the nation it claims to serve. But who does it really serve? That is the question for the poem.

Who is served when we take in refugees or immigrants? While we tend to think of them as the other, the other knows we are the privileged, who can, in the comfort of our living rooms or office debate the issue as though it is an abstract, rather than life or death.

Thomas McColl imagines the dreams of those who have nothing else to claim … “eyelids turned into wings … above and across the barbed wire”. The vulnerability of life without walls and insurance policies is captured in Kate Noakes observation between “Black black rocks / oily with dawn / an early lamb”, reminding us how fragile our bodies are when most of us work so hard to surround ourselves with symbols of security. But refugees, war, prejudice and corporate power enter the village like “A limp rag doll, washed up on the kitchen table” (Angela T. Carr).

Sophia-Louise Hyde asks us to mind the gap between “#indifferent” and “#hope”. Devices like social media almost parenthesize civilization as we live it from day to day. Media says if it bleeds it leads but the instrument doesn’t weep, and we do even though we try not to admit it.

“Our humanity diminished” writes Adele Fraser, where “the sea, cold, unconscious, welcomed where we did not.” Civilization is much more than the economy, it is about being human and living from a human consciousness. The poet reminds us that we are entering into madness when we fail to remember who we are. Metaphor is a short cut to do that. “There is a place where the wing tears.” writes Margo Berdeshevsky. Civilization has enabled us to fly and to believe it is our individual egos that created that.

Much of corporate media feeds into the myth that we are superior because of what we have and to leave out the part of how we arrived here. George Symonds closes his poem with “Papers, papers, everywhere / And not a word believed.” So if our own creations are no longer believed what is left? Compassion?

Sally Flint confesses to have “held children who died when taken / by illness who no medic could save. / But someone could have helped” Aylen Kurdi, the 3 year old toddler found washed up by the tide.

It’s not enough to know that the instruments of power have destroyed civilizations many times before. We need to ask how those instruments work to make us less human, to oppress the spirit for the glorification of power over life. We need to see our own children in the ones who have been sacrificed for constructed goals. We need to stop making excuses for ourselves. While preaching closes the mind and the book, the image persists.

In this book there are forty pages of images that will waft into your mind and heart, to consider the link between the value of your life, and where that value comes from.

Other poets in this book are Zena Hashem Beck, Andrew Oldham, Ellen Davies, Antony Owen, Jim C Mackintosh, Rosemary Appleton, Emma Lee, Monica Corish, Janet Vickers, Kathleen Bell, Frank Dullaghan, and Colleen Sensier.


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