Sociologist-turned-poet Becky Thompson focuses on the individuals affected by the forced migration crisis in Greece in this stunning collection of poems inspired by her recent work in the camps on the Greek island of Lesvos and leading poetry workshops for the refugees.
In December 2021, amid thousands of asylum seekers in the Mytilene camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, Pope Francis entreated the world, “Please let us stop this shipwreck of civilization.” Joining a sociologist’s trained eye with a poet’s open heart, Becky Thompson has not only looked into the faces of the dispossessed, but she has also empowered them to speak for themselves in this moving book. The wide variety of poetic forms in To Speak in Salt stands as a metaphor for both the unique suffering of each individual she meets and also for their unique individuality. If the poet cannot stop the shipwreck, she can surely help us feel what it’s like to survive it.
“For many years, Becky Thompson has brought poetry to refugees in Greece, and they have brought poetry to her. TO SPEAK IN SALT is a testimony to that exchange, packed with poems keenly observing people and places where ‘barbed wire doubles as a fence / a clothesline for diapers.’ These are poems weighted with the question of what it means to be a witness to those who have survived the worst, yet still find a way to persist, to pray, and even to praise.” —Philip Metres, author of Shrapnel Maps
“TO SPEAK IN SALT is the heartrending story of a people of maps and stars, men and women with olive trees in their blood, and families huddling on rafts married to water fleeing violence and famine. Becky Thompson unfolds each story with lyrical grace and keen insight.” —Sholeh Wolpé, poet and playwright
“TO SPEAK IN SALT is crafted like a hand-made rosary, each poem, each bead holds its own shape and all the pieces come together across Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine and other sites of displacement and exodus to tell stories of refuge and survival, longing and loss, the endless waiting and hoping for a life with dignity.” —Jehan Bseiso, Palestinian poet
“TO SPEAK IN SALT is a compelling tapestry of truths—political, linguistic, cultural, geographic and above all, human. A historical document as much as a work of art, it captures in fewer words what reams of journalism and NGO reports have failed to. Its myriad voices cannot—and must not—be ignored.” Zoe Holman, author of Where the Water Ends
Poetry. Middle Eastern Studies. LGBTQ+ Studies.
Becky Thompson, MFA, Ph.D., is a poet, human rights activist, yogi, and professor. She is the author of several books, most recently Teaching with Tenderness and Survivors on the Yoga Mat. She has co-edited two poetry anthologies, including Making Mirrors: Righting/Writing by and for Refugees (with Jehan Bseiso). Her honors include the Gustavus Myers Award for Outstand- ing Books on Human Rights and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Association of University Women. She has held appointments at China Women's University, Princeton University, Duke University, and the University of Colorado, and currently teaches at Simmons University. Since 2015 Becky has been traveling to Greece, meeting rafts, working with asylum seekers, and teaching poetry workshops.