Book Review: _Border Lines: Poems of Migration_

Book Review: Border Lines: Poems of Migration

by Renn

I find it somewhat difficult to talk about this book as a cohesive collection, because it contains 122 poems by as many poets, from more than 60 different nationalities, all with vastly different styles. Some chaos is inevitable with any book combining the work of multiple writers, especially with a topic so broad and nuanced as migration. The book is divided into six thematic sections: “Crossings,” “Promised Land,” “Motherland,” “Labor,” “Language,” and “Community,” and the poets range from emerging to renowned. There are continents’ worth of experience in these pages, a cacophony of voices speaking their truth across the world.

Some poems speak of the harrowing experience of being a refugee. Others are several generations removed, having inherited bits and pieces of culture from their grandparents’ country of origin. Others still grapple with the complicated question of belonging as children who were born in one place and raised in another. By war and by famine, alone or with loved ones, these stories are carried along with the great tides of people who have always chosen to leave their countries behind in search of more, be that hope, comfort, safety, or home. There are poems in translation, bilingual poems, and poems written in English by poets to whom English is not a first language. The poems themselves range in quality from just okay to really good, and one of the strengths of a book like this, with so many different contributors, is that the ones that are really good will differ depending on the reader’s own experience of migration. The way some poems I didn’t like articulate certain experiences will resonate with someone far more than they did with me, and the ones I did like may be just okay to someone else. (Though it’s worth noting that there are some poems in here that are universally good and worth reading by everyone, from any background, too.)

“Language” is my favorite section of the book, because language is one of the primary ways I understand my own complicated relationship to migration, and because many of the poets I already know and love (Mary Jean Chan! Rhina P. Espaillat! Ilya Kaminsky! Ocean Vuong!) are featured here. In general, the highlight of the collection to me is the way it illustrates the many ties that bind us all to one another—as family, as community, as people, as place—throwing into stark relief the injustice and absurdity of governments that try to tear us apart. A person is a person, no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they come from; if there is one thing these 122 poems have in common, it is that they show us how border lines are no excuse for denying anyone humanity, compassion, and kinship.