Mediterranean Returns: Migration and the Poetics of Lamentation
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This essay addresses recent poetry of persistent grief for the asylum seekers and migrants who die crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Reading poems by Jehan Bseiso, Warsan Shire, and Aracelis Girmay alongside legal, political, and literary texts, the essay argues that these diasporic poets test the limits of elegiac conventions and the contradictions of humanitarian response. It explores how a poetics of lamentation rework the temporality of migration, refuge, death, and deportation. As a way to rethink the recursive temporality of border crises by Israel, Libya, Italy, and Eritrea, the essay examines multiple conceptions of return in a convergence of poetry and visual art, models of melancholia, theories of antiblackness, ideas of future “return” to “home” countries, and violent state-administered expulsions of so-called “voluntary return.”
Gratitude to all those who heard or read earlier versions of this essay. Special thanks to Walt Hunter and Brian McGrath for their early guidance and feedback and to Alexandra Moore and Samantha Pinto for ever incisive and generous comments.
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