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“Refugee Status for the Undocumented”

Posted on • Words by • Art by

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Collaborators’ Q&A

What made you think of Broadsided for this poem?
Poet Jae Elim: My poems always come to me as images or scenes in a movie and I wanted to know how an artist would visualize or interpret these words moving in my head.

What inspires you in this poem? What drew you to it?
Artist Michele l’Heureux: I was really moved by how different the person in this poem’s life experience is from my own—that one could be so relieved or desperate to be in a new, presumably safer place that they would allow themselves to imagine all the atrocities that would secure their rightful spot in a new country. The poem haunted me for days after I read it, especially knowing how many people, including children, are currently displaced and seeking refuge in new lands. It’s such a sad and beautifully written poem.

Describe your dream “vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Michele l’Heureux: I’d love to see this broadside posted in detention centers and at border patrol crossings and in immigration offices where it might offer comfort to those in transition and perhaps insight to those whose job it is to welcome and care for refugees.
Poet Jae Elim: I would love to see this broadside posted at immigration entry points and airports. I want people to think about what kind of privilege they have or do not have when they enter any geographical space.

What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Did the visual artist refract any element of the poem that made you see the poem differently?
Poet Jae Elim:  I started this poem thinking about all the political tension currently going on in our country: specifically about who belongs in America and who doesn’t. I thought about the undocumented individual especially, and what conditions, if any at all, would make their plea to stay in the United States viable. The boy in this poem is desperate because he has nowhere else to call home but America.  Once I saw the poem and art together, I was a little uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in a good way because I had a written a poem that was packed with heat and that revealed so much truth about the essence of belonging. I think this is why I wanted to publish it under a pseudonym. I do not want the reader to imagine that this is the poet’s story, but rather this is the chaos the poet sees in the world and wants everyone else to see it too. 

Did anything shift for you or come into new light once you saw the poem and art together on the page?
Artist Michele l’Heureux: I think words and images together pack a powerful punch. I really struggled with how to capture the intensity and complexity of the poem, but when I saw the words and art together, it felt right.

If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Jae Elim: I think it would be an extreme heat or cold in which no amount of water can cool or wool can warm.
Artist Michele l’Heureux:
A dark, brooding storm with lots of fierce rain and the heavy anticipation of a clearing.

Read any good books lately?
Artist Michele l’Heureux: I just finished The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, a frightening but beautiful story of love and survival. I just started Patti Smith’s Year of the Monkey, and as with all of her writing, I know I will not be disappointed. 

Seen any good art lately?
Artist Michele l’Heureux: I live in Lakeland, Florida, a small college city that is experiencing a bit of a cultural renaissance, including lots of murals being commissioned in different locations. I love discovering new works in public places and watching them unfold. Murals are such a wonderful addition to a city!

Anything else? (Here, we invite the collaborators to invent a question, add a comment, or otherwise speak to what the questions so far have not tapped about their Broadsided experience).

Poet Jae Elim: The process that this poem went through before publication has really taught me about the value of words. Sometimes, you must wait on a poem, hear it over and over again until the right word that fits introduces itself to you.
Artist Michele l’Heureux: Jae, I’d love to know: when you are writing a poem, do you have visual imagery in your head?  Do your poems ever stem from images or do the words conjure images after they are written?
Poet Jae Elim: To answer Michele’s question, every poem begins with a specific idea. For example, this poem began with the question of whether a refugee or undocumented person, who has lived their entire life here “deserved” to be a U.S.citizen. But to answer this question, I imagined a boy being chased away from his village by war and pleading with an immigration officer for entry into the U.S. Right there, the image stopped because I had found another question but not an answer.

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