Traveling Near, Far, and Within: A Review of The Migrant States by Indran Amirthanayagam
In his most recent poetry book The Migrant States, Indran Amirthanayagam gifts us an expansive collection of over sixty poems that bring us to different geographical locations — Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Hawaii, England, Pakistan, Haiti, Peru, New York… — and different perspectives. As with his previous book, Coconuts on Mars, time spent with The Migrant States leaves me feeling as if I’ve traveled to interesting other lands, experiencing exotic and romantic tastes and sites but also inspires a sense that any of those places might be home. Indran has a knack for capturing flavors of cities all around the globe while instilling an appreciation for Global Citizenship.
The Migrant States features poems in celebration of the life and work of Walt Whitman, pieces previously published in the weekly Haiti En Marche, in his poetry column La Voix Du Port, and three other rich chapters, Curtain Call, The Migrant States, and Departures, that speak to a man’s personal history, the experience of migrants and the complex challenges and beauty of America, and leaving and loss. Weaved throughout all is a deep appreciation for the struggles in the human quest for a better life despite the barriers of political regimes; a celebration of music, sport, love — attention to daily moments that make life magnificent, and a narrative that reads in parts gritty, in parts carefree, and in parts sacred.
I especially enjoyed Indran’s poems celebrating music, particularly punk rock, and his descriptions of playing sports. Having a passion for music and a soft spot for punk, those seem an easy fit for me. But not being a sports fan, it astounds me that Indran’s descriptions leave me with a nostalgia that I did not earn with first hand experience. Here is an excerpt from “Batting, In Love.”
“Amazing to try and recreate
that sensation of wholeness
before inevitable infatuation,
leaping desire, love and attendant
heartbreak and loneliness.
If we could just play cricket
until we become old,...”
Here I feel a yearning for baseball and cricket, games I’ve never played with any seriousness. This brings me outside myself and teaches me new understandings and appreciations. Such are things that poetry is able to accomplish and Indran imparts them masterfully.
Indran captures the spirit of this collection well in his introduction to his poems from La Voix Du Port in which he speaks to the poetry reading he hosts at Port Au Prince restaurant in Silver Spring, MD. “I want voices at all ports of entry to cross over and sing in all the languages that please them. In French. Haitian Creole. Spanish. English. Russian. Turkish. Farsi. Arabic. Tamil. Mandarin. Japanese. All are welcome and nobody requires a visa or even a laisser-passer. One Voice. One World. One Dream.” I have been fortunate to benefit from listening to poets at this venue, both featured and in the open-mic and Indran succeeds in creating a welcoming space of diverse voices. I believe The Migrant States reflects the best of that sentiment.