A distinguished poet details his experiences reporting from war zones and refugee camps and grappling with the limits of language.
In this essay collection, Sleigh (Creative Writing/Hunter Coll.; Station Zed: Poems, 2015, etc.) showcases 10 pieces—some previously published—each of which examines the impact of war and political struggle on individual experience. He divides the book into three untitled sections. The first includes pieces the author wrote while visiting war zones in the Middle East and Africa. In “The Deeds,” he discusses his interviews with Palestinians affected by the ongoing conflict with Israel and their efforts to carve out lives in neighboring Lebanon and Syria. The plight of Somali refugees in Kenya is the subject of another essay. Not only do many not know their rights; most live in conditions conducive only to starvation and hopelessness. In the second section of the book, Sleigh meditates on the work he does as a writer reporting on the human costs of conflict. He remarks that his driving passion is for “an art in which bodily reality isn’t slighted” and that also compels the artist to continue looking at “the surfaces of the world.” Analyzing work by poets Wilfred Owen, David Jones, and Anna Akhmatova, Sleigh refines this idea by emphasizing that the true artist is one who is “empirical rather than speculative.” In the final section of the book, the author explores the personal history that formed him. He writes about how surviving a marrow disease may have pushed him beyond the fear that could have impeded him from traveling to war zones and how coming into awareness of his well-meaning parents’ racism gave rise to his own desire to understand injustice. Sleigh also remembers his beloved friend Seamus Heaney, who saw poets as “stretched between politics and transcendence.” Wry and sharply observed, Sleigh’s book bears witness to injustice as it engages in a compelling, humane quest for artistic truth.
Provocative and eye-opening work from a dedicated artist.