Desperate times, desperate poetry: (un)Australian refugee poets in a post-9/11 Australia

Dona Cayetana

Research output: Contribution to journalConference paperpeer-review


In the decade since the terrorist attacks of September 11 in the US, Australia has become a country where the global political discourse surrounding the “War-on- Terror” has infiltrated our very understanding of ourselves as a nation. Fed by anxieties regarding race and domestic security, refugees and asylum seekers have become the focus of political debate that has been dominated by rhetoric that constructs them as threats to the national wellbeing and has resulted in incessant calls to “Stop The Boats”. The term “un-Australian” has become a device used in many such debates to insinuate that those who challenge the dominant discourse are somehow irreverent of “Australia values”. This article will argue that resistance writing, in the form of poetry, in a time of cultural crisis is crucial because it disrupts the overriding narrative. Writing directly from their own personal experience of displacement and imprisonment, this article examines the work of refugees whose poetics reflect a real lived-in experience that challenges images of Australia as a nation of egalitarianism and mateship and argues that political poetry is essential for expressing the reality of cultural displacement and social injustice experienced by mandatorily detained asylum seekers in Australia. The power of the poetic form is not only that it provides a platform for political commentary for otherwise muted voices, but also because it creates a rupture in reality, a space where truth can be redefined and the power of language deconstructed. Furthermore, these un-Australian poems inspire a motion towards change, change that can diminish the desire for conflict and advocate a rejection of the doctrine of difference.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalNEO : journal for higher degree research in the social sciences and humanities
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventFaculty of Arts higher degree research and honours conference (2011) - Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 1 Nov 20111 Nov 2011


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