As an educator in a high school whose curriculum is organized by global regions, the fact that this powerful woman of Indian descent grew up in Kenya and later emigrated to England and America beckoned me to learn more about her story, to settle into a chair and listen. I recommend the collection for Patel's clear poetic voice, the collection's tone laced with love and defiance, gratitude and pride, and for the way her writing challenges genre lines, invites discussion, and provokes discomfort.
In this beautiful printing, each of the four sections begins with a proverb in Gujarati, a language of Patel's home, and an illustration: (1) the poems that comprise the performance, (2) the "shadow book" of stage/writing notes for the performance poems, (3) earlier and additional poems, and (4) a section that sheds further light on the creative journey through a timeline and interviews.
As Vijay Prashad's foreword explains, "it's about the condition of migration - of migritude. It is not a cultural anthropology of migrant lives, but rather a philosophical meditation on what it means to live within the concept of Migrant." In the context of its open exploration of identity, there is an occasional swear word and reference to Patel's lesbian identity (from "Dreaming in Gujarati" - "Words that don't exist in Gujarati: // Self-expression // Individual // Lesbian"), both authentic layers in the collection's passion and candor. To get a sense of what that passion is like in-person, watch this video of Patel from Peace on Fire (2011).
The virgule ( / ) is the most common form of punctuation in Patel's poems, so I'll use // to indicate stanza breaks. "Shilling Love: Part One" opens "They never said / they loved us // Those words were not / in any language / spoken by my parents". The poem contrasts love in the speaker's home with experiences in cultures she encounters in England and America, juxtaposing references to the exchange rate of Kenyan shillings to the British pound which emphasizes the sacrifice her parents made for her and her sister. Her parents' advice is italicized: "learn and study / succeed / learn and study / succeed / remember remember remember / the cost of your life".
In "The Making (Migrant Song)", the speaker addresses the reader about such contrasts directly. "We calibrate hunger precisely. Define enough differently from you. Enough is what's available, shared between everyone present. We are incapable of saying, as you can so easily: Sorry, there's not enough for you."
As a result of the topics they explore, the strong tone in which they're delivered, as well as their anti-Imperialist, feminist themes, and the deep, complicated love for parents, home culture, and ancestry they express, these poems would elicit vibrant class discussions.
An excellent addition to high school collections - for emerging poets to look to for inspiration and craft, for performance artists to reflect on the insights in part two, and for readers to explore the ideas it presents and consider if/where they find themselves in this meditation on Migrant.