Palindrome Poetry

refugeesA friend of mine recently sent me an email containing the poem below. I usually do not forward such material, but this one is the exception. It is a smart piece of work and says more than masses of media coverage ever could.

The piece is entitled “Refugees” and was written in response to the Syrian refugee situation in Europe, but could easily be about immigrants from Central America and Mexico seeking asylum in the United States. Apart from its poignant message, the poem uses a unique literary form – the palindrome. A palindrome is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of characters which reads the same backward or forward. An example of a palindrome is the sentence, “Madam, I’m Adam.” So is the word “Otto.” Both can be read forward or backward.

The author of the poem is Brian Bilston. Frequently described as the “Poet Laureate of Twitter,” I do not imagine his name is one that comes to mind immediately when speaking of contemporary poets, yet his poems have earned him more than 20,000 followers to date. He is an Englishman living in Oxford who uses the alias “Brian Bilston” to keep his identity secret “for the time being at least. Not for any sordid or particularly interesting reason – other than the real me would just prefer to remain in the background.” In an age where social media is a tool for self-promotion, Bilston goes against the grain by using the form to mask his identity. “Brian” started life as a football correspondent for a fictional newspaper, The Dudley Echo.

In his poem, Bilston forces people to re-think their prejudice against refugees with this startling poem highlighting the plight of those fleeing conflict and persecution. “Refugee” won praise for recounting the pains suffered by those seeking asylum in Europe in unexpected fashion – and in just twenty-four lines!

Read top-to-bottom as normal, his piece says refugees “are not welcome here,” calls on them to “go back to where they came from” and says “a place should only belong to those who are born there” and “build a wall to keep them out.” If you have been following the political scene in the United States, such phrases should sound familiar, particularly from the Republican side of the issue.

Bilston then adds a small request at the end of his poem: “Now read from bottom-to-top”. And the results are really truly something else. So with the above as introduction, here is Bilston’s masterful gem in full:


They have no need of our help

So do not tell me

These haggard faces could belong to you or me

Should life have dealt a different hand

We need to see them for who they really are

Chancers and scroungers

Layabouts and loungers

With bombs up their sleeves

Cut-throats and thieves

They are not

Welcome here

We should make them

Go back to where they came from

They cannot

Share our food

Share our homes

Share our countries

Instead let us

Build a wall to keep them out

It is not okay to say

These are people just like us

A place should only belong to those who are born there

Do not be so stupid to think that

The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

To that I can only say – genius, absolutely genius.




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