Inside Out: Poetry From An Ex-Detainee
November 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
As the economic crisis has ripped through the world we have seen a stepping up of racist immigrant bashing by the rich and powerful and their governments and parties as they try to shift the blame for the crisis onto the poor and desperate while also grasping around for anything to hold their system together and stop people revolting. Even here in Australia where the crisis has not had the same deep effect as elsewhere we have seen the two major political parties go to hack on refugee rights and ramping up anti-immigrant hysteria.
Both the Labor government and the Immigration Department have done their utmost best to demonize refugees and undermine their right to seek asylum. Their arguments range from baseless claims that their home countries like Afghanistan are apparently safe now to the idea that detention centres aren’t responsible for the trauma and depression that affects so many detainees. Mohsen Soltany Zand challenges some of these myths around refugees in his work Inside Out, a collection of poetry. Through verse it reflects upon detainee depression, the terrible conditions of detention and the anger many feel towards the racist policies of the Australian government.
Mohsen Soltany Zand came to Australia in 1999 from Iran and was held for over four years in several immigration detention centres including the infamous Villawood detention centre in Sydney. Many of the poems in Inside Out were written while he was still in detention, others are reflections upon his post-detention life. One thing is clear – you can not read this heartfelt plea for justice and humanity without burning with rage at the government and their ongoing crimes.
In False Prophets Mohsen writes:
My pen speaks for the accidental criminal
who languishes and waits in a razor wire snare.
His Crime? To ask for freedom and compassion
But finds a fate much worse than terror left behind.
How easily these words could be applied to ‘Shooty’ the Tamil refugee who committed suicide at the Villawood detention centre after fleeing torture at the hands of the Sri Lankan Government, all the while PM Gillard was hanging out with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mohsen also puts his poetry about the plight of refugees in its broader political context. In Realpolitik he writes:
I see a donkey that is singing for democracy
I see a hyena that is waiting for the ‘war on terrorism’
I see a shark that is helping rescue boat people
I see a prisoner mouse making a party for the cat
I see a fox teaching freedom to the hen and the rooster
The poet puts an intimate human face to the oppression of the refugees. For instance one of the darkest poems in this collection Dream of Freedom concerns self harm in detention and the terrifying atomization and internalized anger that is a direct product of living in detention. Mohsen also writes about his home country Iran and reminds us of what he has fled from:
In my country,
when you ask a child to draw an image
of love – he draws a bullet;
of judgement – he draws a gun;
of freedom – he draws a cage;
One of Mohsen’s most powerful poems is SIEV X. On the 19 October 2001 a Indonesian fishing boat (called SIEV X by the government) sank en route to Australia’s Christmas Island. Over 350 people drowned and at the same time the Australian Government was involved in ‘people smuggling disruption operations’ that included the sabotage of refugee boats. Like the event itself the poem is a stark reminder of what ‘stopping the boats’ really means.
Inside Out is a courageous work that puts the brutal refugee experience into verse and succeeds in both humanizing the refugee condition and enraging people who know that this has gone on for far too long.
So if you are inspired by this review pick up the book here, but don’t stop there! This weekend there will be a refugee rights demonstration outside the Australian Labor Party conference to take on the governments shocking treatment of refugees.
Even though the government has made an announcement that it will be offering bridging visas to refugees it is still clear that some will be held in detention for months and years while they wait. Also the ALP is still trying to push for their rotten Malaysia Solution and only recently tried to deport a Hazara refugee back to Afghanistan.
Mohsen’s poetry then should be seen as not only a howl of rage at the state of refugee policy but also a call to arms for supporters of human rights.