More of Us. Edited by Adrienne Jansen with Clare Arnot, Danushka Devinda, and Wesley Hollis. (Wellington: Landing Press, 2019). ISBN 9780473463496. RRP $22. 92pp.
Reviewed by Anuja Mitra
With global debates on migration showing no signs of cooling, it is easy to get caught up in the politics and overlook the people. More of Us collects poems from a diverse array of writers who may appear to have little in common. Contributors are journalists and engineers, football enthusiasts, and future dentists. Yet all have greeted the shores of Aotearoa as migrants or refugees, now calling this country their home—or one of their homes. This book contains lived experiences that are still being lived; portraits of joy, anxiety, acceptance, and loss that form a picture of common humanity while confirming that there is no universal ‘migrant experience’.
Some of the most memorable poems are relatively brief, centred around a single image or moment. In “Coffee Bones” by Huberta Hellendoorn, a mispronunciation provides the poet with a telling play on words. The darker connotations of ‘bones’ nudge at the past lurking ‘down the stairs’, but there is a sense of peace and even triumph when she grinds those bones down—as if the act of doing so has turned them into ‘beans’, into ‘magic’. Change is even more keenly felt in Kirsten le Harivel’s “When We Came Here”, through the unfamiliar absence of noise. I like the simple but effective way she describes it:
I didn’t know how to sleep
in Aokautere’s silence,
the hush of darkness
was something I didn’t know
how to touch.
The bustle of people at home was a source of comfort, a tangible sound. What do we do in a new country where there is nothing to grip onto? Sudha Rao’s “Making A Salad” sticks with me for how it reflects the process of re-orienting oneself, just as Rao mentally situates herself in a new land; a land she once viewed as being at ‘the bottom’ of her earth. She takes us on her journey from memory to memory, from adult to child again:
I became an infant discovering my face, hands, feet.
I could not use words to say who I was.
Sometimes, though, it is words we keep returning to. It is songs that root us to home, as in “My Aunt’s Song” by Tipesa Victoria Samuel Ulavale:
‘We have to be like the grey duck.
Wherever the grey duck flies
it always goes back to the water.’
I could name more favourite poems from this collection, but consider it only fitting to end with the school-aged poets like Ulavale: after all, the future belongs to them. Some write of separation, but others of togetherness—whether they are talking about family like Yazan El Fares’s “When My Family is All Together” or teammates like Mohammad El Fares’s “The Journey of Football”. Infused with youthful spontaneity, these poems convey the hope that we can find a welcoming community wherever we go.
Whether penned by poets young or old, the poems in this collection are moving and highly approachable. Along with its companion volume All of Us, this book can easily be read in our schools. It might introduce migrant students to poetry as a medium through which they can express their own experiences. More broadly, though, it might help young people bridge their differences while also recognising that they give us so much to celebrate.
Anuja Mitra is completing a Law/Arts degree. Her writing can be found in places like Starling, Mayhem, and Poetry NZ. She is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen.