The movement of peoples from one space to another, sometimes forcibly, as with the Middle Passage and the Trail of Tears, or courageously and voluntarily, as with the great migrations from Eastern Europe, Asia, and, more recently, Africa and Latin America to the United States and Western Europe, has been accompanied by immeasurable emotional and psychological displacements. Where is home? Is it the motherland, the left-behind world of birthplace and ancestry, or is it the strange but fresh landscape of possibility and promise? Which language articulates the private self, which the public? More recently, driven by war, poverty, and multiple forms of oppression, contexts shaped significantly by First World politics and interests, African and Middle Eastern peoples have risked their lives to touch the European continent, while Central Americans have journeyed north, all intent on crossing borders – pocked and cratered terrains, guarded rivers, dangerous and indifferent seas and oceans – toward more secure lives for themselves and their children. What is the cost of such unwilling or hopeful migration? “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion,” writes the anonymous poet of Psalm 137.
Throughout the long history of these arduous journeys, poets have given voice to those who experience shifts of language and consciousness, spiritual deprivation and renewal, familial separation and reunion,and adaptation to being strangers in a strange land. André Aciman states, “Each one of us is a dislodged citizen of a country that was never really his, but that he has learned to long for and cannot forget. The fault lines of exile and diaspora always run deep, and we are always from elsewhere, and from elsewhere before that.”
It’s those aspects of elsewhere, physical and imagined, as well as the more concrete (literally andfiguratively) aspects of the here and now, that the poets in this anthology explore and engage. More than one hundred poets from a wide range of cultural backgrounds deepen into personal stories of displacement, of migration and exile, and of past language and tradition set against the dissonances and unrecognizable rituals of cultures sometimes welcoming, often fearful or antagonistic. The process of (at times reluctant) assimilation is recorded in these poems through the smallest details, through the ordinary progressions of a life – its loves and labors – which take on significance as meanings of identity, of national and global citizenship, reconstruct themselves.
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” asks the anonymous poet. The poets in this anthology attempt such songs, not only of the Lord in various guises, but also of themselves and their families, their loved ones past and present, their languages and lives, all toward defining, in more encompassing terms, migration as disruptive, wondrous, challenging, desperate, ecstatic, and – not least of all – reinventive.
--Mihaela Moscaliuc and Michael Waters
Copyright © 2020 by Edited by Michael Waters and Mihaela Moscaliuc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.