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Poems in ‘Migrant Psalms’ Explore Borders, Faith, and Identity

By BETH HARPAZ

A new prize-winning collection of poems by Professor Darrel Alejandro Holnes (Medgar Evers College) explores migration, religion, family ties, language, sexuality, and other themes.

The collection, called Migrant Psalms, won the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Drinking Gourd winners are published by Northwestern University Press.

Holnes was born in Houston, raised in Panama, attended college and graduate school in the U.S., and has lived in Mexico City and Berlin. “Holnes knows migration,” writes poet Ed Roberson, an editor for the Drinking Gourd book series, in his foreword to Migrant Psalms.

The collection begins with “Kyrie,” which takes its name from the Christian prayer. The poet declares that he is “new to Texas and America” and offers reflections over time on politics, racism, technology, pop culture, and sexuality.

Holnes dedicates a piece called “Poder” to “the Surge: Central American refugees marching to the USA,” saluting “the mothers who sent their children north, risking their babies’ lives for a better living.”

In “OTM, or Other Than Mexican,” a term used by immigration and customs officials, Holnes compares language and cultures in Spanish, English, and “Spanglish”: “Other than bonita She pritti… Other than pachanga We rumba … Other than niños They children … Other than nosotros They me.”

“Naturalization” is about the complexities of identity, of becoming American while coming out as a gay person of color, while “The 21st Century Poem” looks at contemporary sexuality as it plays out in everything from HIV tests to Grindr.

“Amending Wall” references “Mending Wall,” the Robert Frost poem that starts out, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and includes the famous line, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Holnes’ piece, in turn, sees the wall as a border evoking the history of colonization and its destruction of indigenous cultures.

“Something there is that loves a wall, that builds a boundary, that calls the structure ‘love of country,’” he writes, adding: “Something doesn’t love a man carving up a continent and its people to make a new world.”

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Migrant Psalms
Northwestern University Press, 2021

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Darrel Alejandro Holnes (Assistant Professor, English) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

Medgar Evers College