Monday, May 1, 2017

May Poetry Challenge: Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees

Emigrants Coming to the "Land of Freedom"
Circa 1902. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Like a majority of North Americans, I have immigrant ancestors. Some of my ancestors first came to North America in the 1600s; others came later. Some came for religious freedom. Some came for the economic opportunities provided on the North American continent. They all hoped to make better lives for themselves and their children.

Bakul Banerjee, who is a scientist/engineer as well as a poet, immigrated to the U.S. from her native India. I find it interesting her poem title uses the term “emigrating” rather than “immigrating.” To me, that nuance emphasizes the loss the bride feels as a result of leaving the land she knows and the people she loves in back home as she arrives in a new place that is strange to her. This is an autobiographical poem.

Arranged Bride Emigrating – Washington D. C.

The blue river below
wears a collar of snow
winding streets
lined with fir trees

The airplane tilts
pivots and reveals
rows of homes
with pitched roofs
laid out in repose

I have no home
but a cache of gold
to fend the cold
I have no warm coat
but wear a silk sari.

The engine throttles
the plane circles
down it swoops
my journey ends
uncertainty begins

I have seven dollars
plus an address

~ Bakul Banerjee

From Bathymetry: Poems by Bakul Banerjee (Sumak Press: 2017), page 31.

“The Arrival” is part of a series of poem written by Marjorie Rissman about her grandmother who immigrated to the United States. Her poem takes us back in history. Unlike the bride flying into Washington, D.C., the subject of this poem came by sea to Ellis Island, a much different experience.


She came at sixteen
alone on a big boat
gold coins sewed inside
the hem of her skirt
from Europe to Ellis Island
almost an unbearable month
shuttered inside a stateroom
where food was left at her door
like a prisoner or a family’s pet dog
left scraps in a bowl on the porch.

Sometimes she snuck on deck
when darkness protected her
the hood on her cloak obscuring
her delight in breathing the fresh
sea air laden with salt like her tears
of loneliness and fright
all too quickly she returned
to the relative safety down below.

At long last a symphony of fog horns
announced New York Harbor and
the boat became a beehive of activity
passengers gathered up their bundles
headed up the stairs to await the vision
of the Great Lady in the water
their first welcome to America
She was a grand sight filled with
promise and dignity
kindness and compassion.
The Mother she had left behind.

~ Marjorie Rissman

From The Fanny Stories: A Collection of Poems Dedicated To My Grandmother, Fanny Kassof

Banerjee and Rissman own the copyright to their poems.

Over the long stretch of history, many people have chosen to move from one country to another. Others have been forced by circumstances to abandon their homes and become refugees. Still today, there is much movement from one country to another. I have met Kenyans who immigrated to Indiana, Canadians and Minnesotans who emigrated to Mexico, Argentinians who immigrated to the U.S. – to mention just a few.

Refugees face more difficult challenges. They leave war-torn countries, or flee persecution based on religion, tribe, ethnic background, or tyrannical governments. One of my favorite professors would have been arrested and undoubtedly killed when Nazi soldiers rounded up his seminary classmates in Norway, except that he was playing the organ for a funeral. Notified that the soldiers were looking for him, he took refuge in an attic until Christmas eve, when he escaped across the mountains on skis. Eventually he immigrated to Illinois.

Often refugees flee with only the clothing on their backs, perhaps even having to hide in the woods and travel at night. Their stories are different from the stories of those who choose to leave their homeland and are able to do so with money in their pockets.


One of my daughters suggested that I add a link to a poignant song about immigration: "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears. She recommended The Irish Tenors, but this link is to Celtic Women. I agree with my daughter: it is a really poignant expression of the hopes, fears, gain and loss that many immigrants to the U.S. experienced. Here is the link: Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears.

The May Challenge:

The May Challenge is to submit a poem about immigration, emigration or refugees.

Title your poem unless it is haiku or another form that does not use titles. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem. Single-space and don’t use lines that are overly long (because the blog format doesn’t accommodate long lines). Please do not indent or center your poem on the page, put it in a box or against a special (even white) background.

You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet.

The deadline is May 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language. No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “May Poetry Challenge Submission” in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio which can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month. Please put your name and bio under the poem in your email.

Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem. Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment (no pdf files, please). Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.

Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.

© Wilda Morris