The Great Scattering:  Reading John Palen’s Riding With the Diaspora

My favorite line in John Palen’s new chapbook is unpacked in the final poem, “Riding With the Diaspora,” which is the shared title of his book.  He writes, “At 6:00 on a winter evening / we’re all diaspora, all a little homesick.”  Even in the thick of summer, in the wander-about in full sun and high temperatures, this line takes me straight into the heart of winter, into that collective confusion from where is it we actually hail.  Never an easy answer, really, as Palen’s poems sing.  The entire collection is one of crossings; of time, of family. I half-wondered in the start of my reading if his collection would read similarly to that of a memoir.  Perhaps there are elements of that included, but Palen’s collection exceeds this.  His poems consider the displacement of the Indigenous, the Migrant, the Enslaved, the Refugee.  They venture along the borders of the aged, the destitute, the ailing in poems that are poignant in both their pain and beauty.  This vibrant collection challenges readers to consider their own “Where We’re From.”  Chances are the reflection will not yield an easy answer, but the reading will be savored.

Author: kerstenchristianson

Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, high school English-teaching Alaskan. She serves as poetry editor of the quarterly journal Alaska Women Speak. Her latest collection of poetry is Curating the House of Nostalgia (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2020). Kersten holds an MFA from the University of Alaska. @kerstenak

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