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“Sanctuary Somewhere”: a review of Brenna Dimmig’s poetry cycle on immigration

Book cover of Brenna Dimmig’s poetry collection Sanctuary Somewhere. The book cover is an abstract design of the American Flag.

Brenna Dimmig’s poetry collection Sanctuary Somewhere is centred on undocumented immigration experiences in the U.S. Her two main characters, Osmel and Leslie experience the U.S. differently based on their immigration statuses. Despite being siblings, Leslie is legal because she is born in the U.S. but her brother, Osmel, and her mother are undocumented. The fear of speaking about immigration statuses means that even amongst immigrant families and communities many people do not know who is or is not documented.

At the beginning of the poetry cycle, Osmel learns that he too, like many people in his family, is undocumented. Yet he doesn’t quite understand what that means to him. Alex tells him, “At school we’ve now/ all come out/ as undocumented.” The fear and freedom in those lines speak volumes to the immigrant experience in the U.S. To stay hidden offers some sort of safety, but it also means isolation and never knowing who to trust.

Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. experience a lot of exploration and discrimination. The possible paths to citizenship or even green card status are complicated and convoluted. Often people do not have the money or support to pursue such options.

Osmel is angry and jealous of his sister, Leslie, who is free from this worry and concern. When their mother falls and hurts herself, Leslie calls 911 which makes the whole family and especially Osmel panic. Yet the EMTs do not ask too many questions to the relief of everyone.

Dimmig’s story is simple and it is this simplicity that makes it powerful. Contemporary poetry is often relegated to the lofty halls of academia, yet this poetry also described as YA verse is extremely accessible poetry that draws on a long line of poetic history where poetry could tell stories, like Spencer’s Fairy Queen or The Odyssey.

This would be a great resource for Highschool teaching whether it be in history, literature, or cultural studies. What other poetry collections are you reading? As always, share the reading love.

Note: this poetry collection was accessed through Netgalley for review purposes.