Poetry Friday: Words by Atwood and Nagra

As part of our on-going tradition, our featured poems for today’s Poetry Friday focus on the immigrant experience, in faithful keeping with our bimonthly theme: Festival of Asian Literature and the Immigrant Experience. Check out today’s Poetry Friday roundup at The Poem Farm for more poetry for the soul. We hope you enjoy our post for today!

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I first encountered Margaret Atwood when I took a few courses on English Literature in the Philippines. Her short story entitled “Happy Endings” was part of the syllabus for one of my Fiction classes. I’ve loved her ever since. I was glad when I found out that she wrote a poem about immigration. The poem itself was quite long, so I decided to share a couple of excerpts from it. To view the complete poem, please visit The Poetry Archive.

The Immigrants
by Margaret Atwood

They are allowed to inherit
the sidewalks involved as palmlines, bricks
exhausted and soft, the deep
lawnsmells, orchard whorled
to the land’s contours, the inflicted weather

only to be told they are too poor
to keep it up, or someone
has noticed and wants to kill them; or the towns
pass laws which declare them obsolete.

[...]

I wish I could forget them
and so forget myself:

my mind is a wide pink map
across which move year after year
arrows and dotted lines, further and further,
people in railway cars

their heads stuck out of the windows
at stations, drinking  milk or singing,
their features hidden with beards or shawls
day and night riding across an ocean of unkown
land to unknown land.

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This second poem I discovered while browsing through The Poetry Archive. I like the structure and wordplay of the poem. According to his bio in The Poetry Archive, Daljit Nagra was the first poet to win the Forward Prize for both his first collection of poetry, in 2007, and for its title poem, ‘Look, We Have Coming to Dover!’, three years earlier… Born in Middlesex, he now lives in London, where he works as an English teacher. I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I did.

Booking Khan Singh Kumar
by Daljit Nagra

Must I wear only masks that don’t sit for a Brit
Would you blush if I stripped from my native skin

Should I beat on my chest I’m a ghetto poet
Who discorded his kind as they couldn’t know it

Should I foot it featly as a Punjab in Punglish
Sold on an island wrecked by the British

Did you make me for the gap in the market
Did I make me for the gap in the market 

Does it feel good in the gap in the market
Does it feel gooey in the gap in the market…

Will I flame on the tree that your canon has stoked
Will I thistle at the bole where a bull-dog cocked

Should I talk with the chalk of my white inside
On the board of my minstrel-blacked outside 

Should I bleach my bile-name or mash it to a stink
Should I read for you straight or Gunga Din this gig

Did you make me for the gap in the market
Did I make me for the gap in the market

Do I need to be good in the gap in the market
Do I need to be gooey in the gap in the market…

As I’ve worn a sari bride and an English rose
Can I cream off awards from your melting-pot phase 

Do you medal yourself when you meddle with my type
If I go up di spectrum how far can ju dye

More than your shell-like, your clack applause
What bothers me is whether you’ll boo me if I balls

Out of Indian!

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

2 Comments on Poetry Friday: Words by Atwood and Nagra

  1. The first by Atwood shows cruelty & I’m not surprised. So sad what others do when some are perceived ‘different’. I like these lines: “hidden with beards or shawls
    day and night riding across an ocean of unknown/land to unknown land.” The other one too seems to show the rage that immigrants must feel. Interesting sharing, Fats. Thank you!

  2. their heads stuck out of the windows
    at stations, drinking milk or singing,
    their features hidden with beards or shawls
    day and night riding across an ocean of unkown
    land to unknown land.

    So powerful. Atwood’s poem has me thinking about my own ancestors, and about people I pass each day. Thank you for this. Happy Poetry Saturday….

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