Poets Talk to Poets about the Border Wall

A man jogs by the beach towards the wall dividing Mexico and the U.S. in Tijuana, 2004. (AP)

Journalists aren’t the only writers covering international politics. In a two-part series at Poetry International, poets from Mexico to Europe, Africa to Asia,  discuss the roles borders play in their lives, and the way borders limit our lives physically, linguistically, and culturally. Whether reflecting on living in Texas near the route of Trump’s proposed wall or exploring the  psychological borders of one’s cultural identity, these writers weigh in on what it means to be a citizen, the way language moves through populations, and how movement across borders creates vitality. You can read the forum’s first part here.

Philip Metres (b. USA): Borders are notoriously porous; no wall ever holds everyone out. The Great Wall failed to keep the Mongols at bay. The Maginot Line was crossed. Consider the tunnels of Gaza—whole cars and brides smuggled through. My passport is blue, and I try to live a political life according to and beyond the ideals of the Constitution. But I am a citizen of the earth and verse, of oxygen and lung, of the hurting and longing, of hoping against hope.

Every time I attempt translation, I feel something in me transported elsewhere, beyond my own skull’s borders, like some figure in a Chagall unmoored from earth, somewhere between thrill and terror.

Martin Camps (b. Mexico): Benedict Anderson said that we live in “imaginary communities”. What does “Mexican” or “American” mean? I believe that all human beings have planetary rights to cross borders, to live where they want to live. But borders exist to preserve a world order, the ones that have and the ones that don’t. We have borders even in our cities, living in the “nice part of the city” and not going to other parts where the “undesirables” live. We have shadow borders in every American city.

Ishion Hutchinson (b. Jamaica): To be a citizen, strictly speaking, is to belong to a state, which, from an official standpoint, is always suspicious of duality. “But,” Auden says, “Love, at least, is not a state,” and I think that speaks to being a citizen of a border, without fear of either side, unwaveringly in love with both.

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