Book Review: Word Migrants by Hazel Smith

Word Migrants is not a book to be pigeon-holed. My inner-librarian tried to find a simple spot to shelve the book and failed, because Word Migrants spans across so many themes and techniques and does so skilfully.

At the crux of the collection is the idea of migration; of transcending borders and moving beyond labels. “Most importantly”, says Smith, “the words in the book transition over the limits of sense, sounds, page, and context”.

The book begins with an easy-to-read tone of voice exploring themes of grief, identity of the self, suffering, and the impact of technology on our society. Just when Smith has you nodding, affirming her words, she presents you with a smirk to make you second guess.

Sometimes I dream I have murdered someone, when I wake up I’m not sure if I have or haven’t. It’s the boots again, though smaller than before, laced-up, polished.

Smith uses contrasting images, tones, and structure. This creates a collection of work that is forever transforming itself from short lines of poetry to lengthy paragraphs of prose to experimental phonetics on the page.

“I like to play with new approaches to writing to trigger unfamiliar ways of thinking,” Smith says.

This technique of juxtaposition and experimental play result in the reader wandering through the book, exploring the unknown, unsure of what could appear on the next page.

Ify ouk now hati tis, w hatst hepo into fdo oing it?

By the end of Word Migrants, the reader has journeyed a long way from the easy-to-read works and has been confronted with the more surreal nature of contemporary poetry.

A sense of displacement is felt, and the reader becomes a migrant within the very pages of the book. Smith’s ability to force the reader into a state of migration through the techniques of her poetry is resoundingly clever. Not only does the writer present the reader with high-quality poems, but compels the reader to uniquely experience themes of dislocation, identity and loss.

Kyra Thomsen is a writer from Wollongong, NSW. She is Deputy Editor of Writer’s Edit and her work has been published in Kindling, Seizure, Space Place & Culture, Mascara and more. You can find more at or on Twitter with @KyraThomsen.

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