Just Above the Waterline, Elizabeth Hare

Wayleave Press, 2021      £5.00

Poems from the detained

This neat, well-produced pamphlet draws on Elizabeth Hare’s work with refugees and also her own personal experience of lockdown — so, two views on government-imposed confinement: one we have all recently experienced and one fewer of us have to. 

Elizabeth Hare brings her reader into the worlds of refugees with warmth and compassion and left me with some questions that need an answer. For example, in ‘Undocumented’ we learn how four undocumented migrants become ‘documented’ over the course of the poem:

Later he fell off his bicycle, broke his arm.
The NHS documented that.


He got fined for dropping a cigarette end in the street
in Doncaster where he went visiting.
The Council documented that.

And she writes of the two who were refused leave to remain:

They are out there somewhere, falling off bicycles
dropping cigarette ends.

I document them here.

The poet then goes on to think about the transition once someone is given ‘Leave to Remain’, in the poem of that title:

Strangers invite you into their home
new words for garden, bread.
The same word with two meanings
bank, one for money, one for food.

When you wake may you remember
you have a new word for morning

In the final part of the pamphlet, the focus shifts to lockdown. ‘Covid Behaviour’ reflects on how we behaved in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. It already feels out of date — a point reflected in the next poem, ‘Corona Normal’, a meditation on the fact that, as humans, ‘we adapt’. And of course, a poem called ‘Clapping’ speaks for itself:

There should be a poem for them
in the rhythm of pulses taken,
faltering heartbeats counted.

There should be a decent wage, time to recover.
Whatever we give them it should be more
than just clapping.

And heartfelt appreciation is exactly what I felt at the end of reading, rereading and reflecting on this beautiful timely pamphlet.

Jane Thomas