‘Refugee: A Tribute in Poetry’ by Miranda Sealy – Review

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Credit: Ben White/CAFOD

This short collection of poems by Miranda Sealy explores the viewpoint of refugees. The crises in the Middle East and North Africa have added to those of Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Central America and elsewhere to create a huge humanitarian crisis for the world.

The developed world has played a crucial role in creating this crisis and is now refusing to meet the full extent of its responsibility. Turkey estimates that it has taken 3 million refugees, 2.5 million of whom have fled Syria. Lebanon has some 1.5 million Syrian refugees – making up a third of its population. Meanwhile, David Cameron has pledged to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees into the UK over the next five years.

The EU and Turkey agreed a £2.3 billion deal to stop refugees entering the EU from Turkey. It is clear, however, that Turkey cannot cope with their influx. Mass drownings continue to occur – in the latest, 25 people are reported to have drowned off the coast of Turkey trying to make it to Greece. In just the first month of the year, 54, 518 have arrived in Europe by sea and 236 died or went missing, according to the UN.

Never has it been more important to support asylum seekers and refugees. Sealy seeks to give voice to their perspective in her poems. Some are despairing, others defiant or accusing. The most powerful, for me, are those in which the writer clearly separates the voices of poet and protagonist.

There is variety in perspective, style and tone of the poems. In Refugee, the narrator is descriptive:

“I walk the earth with measured tread
Surrounded, yet alone
Fate cast by ancestors long ago
In blood…dribbled on stone.”

I Flirt, meanwhile, relies on just one word, ‘flirt,’ to capture the nature of the refugee’s relations with her new society.

“With life
with death
with words
with men
with women
with children
with babies.”

The two approaches give voice to the efforts and the despair of a refugee in a new country living as an outsider. In Human Rights a sufferer angrily accuses the world: ‘You have no more right than I/to live or even die.”

Sealy’s own accusation is expressed in We Do Not Name the Dead:

“I do not know them
You do not know them
Their presence on this earth went unchecked”

My Soul Lives Beyond Me explores more closely what it means to be an outsider. The narrator is in a relationship with someone who has “traveled and traveled and traveled the world.” The narrator says of her partner:

“There are meadows and valleys, there are rivers and grass. I see music and laughter and mysteries unfold. But where does it come from? My soul is too old.”

The difficulties experienced, however, can bring wisdom and hope. A World in a Grain of Sand reads:

“The dreams that just keep rumbling
Ripples on the surface of the deep,
Green shrubs blossoming, taking purchase in the loaming sand
This picture says: ‘I was, I wished, I will be and I am.”

In what is my favourite poem from the collection, Fight Injustice, Sealy gives voice to someone who has survived.

“Smile when you angry and shout when you calm
Learn to think with heart and feel with head

I will fight injustice til I dead
Ah gine fight injustice til ah dead.”

Refugee: A Tribute in Poetry is a thought-provoking and compassionate collection with some outstanding poems.