Rhetorically speaking, the issue of immigration these days is a world of diatribe and invective, talking points and impotent argument. But a new book wants to bring a little poetry to the subject.
Ink Knows No Borders attempts to elevate the immigration debate with an anthology of poems by writers from every conceivable ethnic background and corner of the world—all expressing, in the most vivid and evocative language, exactly what it means to leave one homeland and settle in another.
From its first line (“We were not prepared for it—America, the land cut like a massive slab of steak,” from poet Joseph O. Legaspi), the book guides the reader through the often-harrowing and heartbreaking experience of immigration in a way that politicians and pundits don’t dare.
On Thursday, April 11, the book’s co-editor Patrice Vecchione will host an event at Bookshop Santa Cruz with contributing poets Alice Tao and Ellen Bass (newly named Santa Cruz County Artist of the Year), as well as poet Shirley Ancheta, who will read a contribution from her late husband Jeff Tagami. Together, they will represent the 65 poets featured in the book.
Vecchione is a Monterey-based writer and poet who has served as the editor of almost a dozen anthologies of poetry, dating back almost 30 years. She says that Ink Knows No Borders follows a narrative thread.
“The book has an arc,” she says. “It starts with young childhood and leaving the home country, and gradually moves into getting older and arrival, and all the complexities that people have to deal with when they come to a new country.”
Vecchione says the idea for a book of poems about immigration long preceded the 2016 election and debate over “the wall.”
“I got the idea for the book after 9/11,” she says, “when I saw how certain Americans were treating certain other Americans, and I was upset at the time. But it wasn’t the right time for me professionally.”
When Donald Trump was elected president, and how America treats its immigrants was suddenly the most pressing political debate, “I felt that it doesn’t matter what else I have to do, this has to be number one.”
Taken together, the poems present a fine-grained portrait of the volatile process of one culture attempting to fold into another, from an elderly Middle Eastern woman ritually washing her feet for prayer while in the bathroom of an American Sears store to an Asian woman struggling to explain that she was overcharged in a nursery.
“Poetry is a way to talk about and address a crisis like this in a way that no other art form can,” said Vecchione. “It’s made of language. It’s personal and it’s specific. This book shows you everything you can imagine about what life is like as an immigrant.”
Patrice Vecchione, co-editor of ‘Ink Knows No Borders,’ with guest poets Ellen Bass, Alice Tao and Shirley Ancheta, will read and discuss the new collection at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Free. bookshopsantacruz.com.