cover image The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees

The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees

Tom Sleigh. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-55597-796-2

Sleigh (Station Zed), a poet who teaches at Hunter College, takes the title of this beautiful collection from his essay about teaching poetry at universities in Iraq, but his theme is the transformational nature of poetry. Sleigh recounts his time working as a journalist in Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, and Somalia. His stories from these war-torn places are sharply observed and humane, whether he is recording descriptions of what it is like to be processed into the massive refugee camp at Dadaab, Kenya, or to work in a sweets shop in Amman, Jordan, or relaying his own experience of watching a severely malnourished child become alert after eating a nutritional wafer in Mogadishu. But these stories are only one part of his project, which is to articulate how it is that poetry can capture what Seamus Heaney calls “the music of what happens,” the essence of direct lived experience. The second half of the book is a remarkable critical memoir, in which Sleigh writes perceptively about some of his poet heroes, including David Jones, Anna Akhmatova, and, most prominently, his lifelong friend Heaney. What emerges is a uniquely personal take on the responsibilities of the poet and the potential for language to be “a form of care.” Agent: Lane Zachary, Aevitas Creative Management NYC. (Feb.)