Early last year, Jessica Sequeira introduced an online issue of The Missing Slate with an essay that could perhaps be co-opted as a manifesto for what the magazine aims to achieve:
“Traditional geographical and ethnic distinctions have begun to blur. A writer may fill page after page alone in her room, then take that notebook to a bar for a reading, one she will perhaps repeat later on in New York, Santiago, or Moscow. Perhaps — is this just a fantasy? — the poets [featured in this issue] form one small part of a worldwide movement in which nations as we know them disappear, along with “developmentalist” thinking, to leave only the pure flow of art and ideas.”
On January 27th, precisely a year after we published that essay, with its bold vision of vanishing borders, President Trump signed an executive order aiming to stop refugees, as well as people from seven Muslim-majority countries, from entering America. This suffocating constriction of America’s borders was met with fear and despair, but also anger, protest, and solidarity.
Unfortunately, Trump’s act of oppression is only one highly visible example of the right-wing nationalism evidenced more widely across the globe. Given the opportunity to break down borders, nationalists are instead making a concerted effort to build them higher. The refugee crisis has highlighted both the pervasiveness and the urgency of the problem, but its instances are multiple, and cannot be reduced to a single paradigm, cause, or effect.
We hope these poems serve as an opening of a kind. A moment of seeing and speaking to each other through and against the fences.
“All my life,” wrote Kapka Kassabova in a recent Guardian article, “I have been haunted by borders — how unjust they feel when you are on the hard side, how alluring when you’re on the soft side.” As a magazine with roots in Pakistan, we’re only too aware that a border can also feel like a hissing brand on your skin, or an open and festering wound. It’s impossible to count the number of lives lost as a result of the line Cyril Radcliffe drew with careless and callous indifference in 1947.
The poems we have gathered here were written in response to borders, whether material or ideological. Mahtem Shiferraw’s ‘Where I Leave You’, Nathalie Handal’s ‘Borders’, and Sarah Lubala’s ‘Portrait of a Girl at the Border Wall’ take place at a series of dividing lines: between nations, between people, and between the past – its memories and histories – and an uncertain, precarious future. Usha Kishore’s ‘Refugee Child’ and Khairani Barokka’s ‘Mediterranean Lyric’ take the sea as their starting point, combining its capacity for the surreal and the transformative with the threats of both its own physical power and its policing. Meanwhile, Ottilie Mulzet and Julia Rose Lewis turn back to family histories to remember borders that have shifted over time, on scales ranging from the human to the geological.
It is our hope that this collection of poems, of voices from around the world and many sides of many borders, serves as a testimony, a human response to political actions that affect people in tangible, devastating ways. We hope it serves as an opening of a kind. A moment of seeing and speaking to each other through and against the fences.