The Diaspora experience through poetry by Momtaza Mehri [@RuffneckRefugee]

Momtaza Mehri is familiar with the poetry scene, yet her debut collection brings something unheard of Mehri, a Somali-British Poet, is also the Young People’s Poet Laureate for London. Her dual paths as a writer and political activist merge in her most recent work – ‘Bad Diaspora Poems.’ 

Mehri’s latest collection is rich both lyrically and historically. Drawing on historical references such as the murder of Anteo Zamboni, she provides a refreshing balance of both intellectualism and accessibility. But this is not the only thing that feels new – Mehri seamlessly merges various genres such as lyric, prose, and erasure poetry. While experimenting with different genres, her work is tied together by a persistent tone of truthfulness and ambivalence. The diaspora experience is neither bliss nor horror – it sits in a more obscure realm that Mehri seeks to unpack.

A quick scroll on twitter will reveal complex tensions between the diaspora and those in the homeland. Once again, Mehri gives fresh words and language to articulate these tensions. The flaws are mutual – those at home “begrudge me a dream that died upon arrival.” Meanwhile, the diaspora “glorifies what the local dreams of escaping.” Mehri rightly characterises the relationship as one of requited longing. 

Mehri explores this obscurity in the relationship between the diaspora and their home country. ‘Reciprocity is a Two-way Street,’ one of the earlier poems in the collection, is filled with this complexity. The diaspora experience is both pain and alienation from that very pain – “Diaspora is witnessing a murder without getting blood on your shirt. Your body is the evidence of its absence”. Yet this ambivalence does not just exist towards one’s country. Quite candidly, Mehri unpacks how it exists in the cities we migrated to. London is simultaneously described as a “great land” – half ironically – and as “the home of police who kill Black boys on mopeds.” 

Overall, Mehri’s latest collection is a breath of fresh air. With both her content and style, she approaches the diaspora experience with a nuance that transcends the typical, clichéd angst of diaspora poetry.

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