Book Review

‘Dreaming America: Voices of Undocumented Youth in Maximum -Security Detention’


From the Earth

From the earth grew a fruit

So delicious

I paused to wonder,

Who harvested this fruit?

“From the Earth,” is one of forty poems included in the poetry collection Dreaming America: Voices of Undocumented Youth in Maximum-Security Detention.” These poems were written by young men who are undocumented immigrants, ages 12 to 17, incarcerated in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The editor, Seth Michelson, chose the poems included in the book from poetry writing workshops he conducted within the facility. The poems are offered in both English and Spanish, the translations provided by Michelson’s students at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

During a recent poetry event, organized by Georgina Marie, the Poet Laureate of Lake County, California, in which three Silver City, New Mexico poets participated, Michelson spoke of the “pre-pubescent boy” who could not read or write and how he dictated “From the Earth” to another boy who had literacy skills. Michelson used the term “poets” to describe his students, most of whom traveled from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and a few from Mexico. On average, they have a second-grade education, were orphaned between the ages of six to eight, and underwent substantial trauma and abuse in their home countries, which led “to threats to themselves or others, often gang or cartel related.”

This collection is full of dreams, heartbreaks, vulnerability and hope. Many of the writers spent time in solitary confinement between poetry sessions. Despair seeps through selections such as in “I Forget.”

Without reason to exist

 I often forget that I am/

real and this makes me ache

the soul I don’t have

or can’t find me

as I wander/somewhere else.

But a fragile joy also is found in this collection. In “The Future,” another poet reflects,

The future is something new

that comes bit by bit.

The bad, the mistakes/

remain behind/

The important thing is to keep

going in life and see

the best in the world.

Michelson says the act of writing poetry transformed how these youth interact. Each poet also has found personal transformation as he expresses his individual story of living with violence, fear, and hopes for the future. “Crossing Borders” expresses this in a tender manner.

These borders are hard to cross.

With their fears, furies, frustrations

But I keep fighting to learn

Although borders are hard/

          To transverse

I’ll one day make it across and improve my life.

All proceeds from “Dreaming America” go directly to a legal defense fund for the young men in detention. The book can be ordered at www.settlementhouse.us/dreaming-america.