The cover of the anthology Famke Veenstra-Ashmore

Content Note: Discussion of the refugee crisis, immigration, prejudice, death

As Claudia Webbe MP remarks in her introduction to this anthology, poetry and stories do indeed ‘help us reach an understanding that we could never had previously imagined’. Poetry and Settled Status for All, an anthology published earlier this year, intertwines the perspectives of refugees, migrants, and victims of the hostile environment, which are tied to the history of (and present discourse around) immigration in the UK.

Though not an immigrant myself, being of dual-nationality, I experienced first-hand the reduction of many people’s lives here to a bureaucratic process, with my mother having to go through the process. The day we received our letter from the Home Office, declaring our successful application for Settled Status, was one of relief, more than jubilation. It was clouded by the knowledge that this was fundamentally a privilege. Thousands of others across the UK would not receive this right to remain. Thousands of others, who like my mother, had lived, worked, and contributed to this country for longer than I have been alive. Thousands of others, who would be refused the right to continue working and living here, unjustly deported, and undermined.

“The poetry reclaims these themes and presents them through the lens of lived experience”

In reaching for this anthology, I found many of these frustrations and difficulties transformed into accessible, yet wonderfully creative fragments, with 114 poems from 97 writers shedding light on the endless diversity of perspectives. Many of these poems are united on keywords which inform how we discuss issues related to immigration – ‘Unsettled’ (M. Chambers), ‘In Transit’ (A.C. Clarke), ‘Visas’ (Monique Guz) are a handful of examples which reclaim these themes and present them through the lens of lived experience. ‘A Foreign House’ by Laura Grevel is structured by the repeated phrase ‘to be settled’, interrogating the profundity of this phrase – it ‘is not something / a piece of paper will ever give’, and is particularly impactful in capturing the uncertainty experienced by immigrants in ‘this new place’.

Many are inspired by recent events, deftly exploring the increasing challenge of simply existing as an immigrant or refugee in the wake of events such as Brexit. Jim Aitken’s ‘The Citizens of Nowhere’ uses a quote from Theresa May as an epigram, tapping into the xenophobic atmosphere which coloured the 2016 referendum to explore our warped understanding of nativity in the UK. Considering aspects such as ancestry and descendance, his poem concludes by analogising a blackbird, who ‘is native wherever he flies’. Similarly, Alice Herve’s ‘We are all migrants’ considers the often uncovered, extensive history of migration which has touched all of our personal histories at some point. Describing the globe as a ‘web of scarification’, her plea for us to ‘leave the door open’, and continue a legacy of global movement which instigated our lives in the first place.

“Each poem is concerned with deconstructing our place within the world, so desperate to be defined by borders”

Her other poem, ‘The Child on The Beach’ summons the harrowing and powerful images of children killed by the perilous route many refugees are forced to undertake. Marking the discrepancies in their innocence and experience, by comparing the ‘treasure’ often associated with beaches, and the ‘debris’ and destruction caused by the refugee crisis, makes for an extremely emotive piece which reminds us that this is reality for many children. Barbara Saunders’ ‘To Aleppo Gone’ is equally as haunting, conjuring the image of a ‘small grey boy’ ‘last seen in the media’. The poetic outlook of these perspectives enables a more humane perspective on these issues to be realised. Gia Mawusi’s ‘Detritus’ laments how ‘the newspapers shout’ and ‘point fingers at us’, detracting from reality of the refugee experience – they are, as the poet describes, ‘undressed of humanity’ in the media. Poetry has the power to redress them.

Indeed, Poetry and Settled Status for All firmly advocates for the humanity of these perspectives, which so often, and disturbingly undermined. The power of these words is understated, but ripples through the anthology’s pages, with an unrivalled resonance made possible by the authenticity of these perspectives. With many of these poems, there is a yearning for place, and a grief of its loss: Monica Manolachi’s ‘News from Timişoara’ calls for Romania, and evokes its landscape so intensely. Meanwhile, many contributions to the UK by immigrants and people descended from different nationalities are highlighted, especially in relation to the coronavirus pandemic; Caroline Rooney considers this in ‘The Key Workers’. Janine Booth’s ‘A New Country’ examines the relationship between citizenship and the NHS, concluding with the important query ‘They treat my sickness not my shade of skin / Why should I need a passport to get in?’


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The anthology’s dedication is an apt place to return. Dedicated to activist Penny Walker (1950-2021) in addition to ‘all who have left the place they were born to find home elsewhere’, Poetry and Settled Status for All harnesses the experience of so many voices, refusing to homogenise them, but giving rise to a shared experience. Each poem is concerned with deconstructing our place within the world, so desperate to be defined by borders. The collection challenges this idea, with a simplicity and authenticity which enables us, as Claudia Webbe states, to empathise and grow as a collection of people.

A review copy of the anthology was kindly sent to Varsity by the editor of the anthology, Ambrose Musiyiwa, of CivicLeicester