“Persona Non Grata” is a poetry anthology to raise funds for charities Shelter and Crisis Aid UK and looks at the roles of outsiders and the sense of not belonging. It covers homelessness, those seeking refuge, the mostly invisible workforce who clean and care and attempts at integrating into society.
Debbie Hall’s “Sonnet for a Homeless Woman Named Beth” suggests how outsiders can still manage a sense of society,
“A ribbon of chain link and razor wire
keeps the freeway at bay, forms a laundry
rack. On the corner, a shuttered market.
Tacked to a telephone pole, a sign:
Will pay cash for diabetes test kits.”
The make-shift laundry rack and sign show a sense of inventiveness and community despite difficult circumstances. It contrasts with Judith Kingston’s “Sostenuto” where the outsider is unable to re-integrate,
“He was my father’s uncle dressed in the skin of a ghost,
his wit muffled under the layers of horror, dulled
by the headstones that were never placed on
graves. Later, he would tell stories, but not now.
Whenever I saw him he wore a suit – his own, but
under his clothes lurked the bleached bones that
rattled in time with the train he was still on, which
could not take him from that place that never left.”
“Ghost” captures the image of someone hollowed out by what they’ve witnessed and the way shellshock and PTSD haunt someone long after the initial trauma. The reference to “suit – his own” suggests someone keeping up appearances and burying experiences. Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar’s “Citizen of a morphing nation” continues the theme of integration,
“Will I have to ubiquitously register myself?
Sit in surveilled booths in gatherings and stadiums?
Would yellow stars be sewn to my lapel?
A tracking band secured around my ankle?
Will my son return home from school
Whole and unbruised as he had left?
Loyalty and sentience, he’ll be asked to pantomime
Else fall prey to slurs and virulent hate crimes”
The questions accumulate an image of someone joining a society she knows she’s not necessarily welcome in; she’s apprehensive and nervous about whether it’s the right decision.
The last section brings in a note of hope. Ceinwen Haydon’s “Let’s celebrate (after Mandy Coe)”,
“Let’s celebrate –
that badass girl with purple hair,
tattoos and piercings. The one
who helps a tired mum
with her baby, heavy pushchair
and bags of Poundland shopping
to get safely of the last bus home.”
It’s rarely the person in a suit who steps in to help. Ceinwen Haydon’s use of enjambment, keeps the motion of the poem forward and energetic, keeping with the sense of celebration.
“Persona Non Grata” explores the themes of being an outsider on the fringes of society whether through poverty and homeless or the need to seek refuge; people who have been traumatised yet still seek community and company. It’s not a depressing read though, the poets bring compassion to difficult issues and experiences.