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For 3 local poets, ‘sanctuary’ means activism, community and having their voices heard

The migrant poets. April 19, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedMediumResults
“Sanctuary” can mean many things.

For Katherine Antarikso, a project architect based in Philly, the value of her time with a recent five-session, migrant poetry workshop called “Sanctuary” was just as much about being in a place of sanctuary as it was writing poems about the topic.

“Just to be in the same room with other women of color, trying to do the same thing, learning and working with each other, it was transformative,” Antarikso said in an email. “It gave me a chance to explore ideas that I have been grappling with for some time: identity, belonging, home.”

Her poem, titled “Homeland,” was one of many that came out of Cynthia Dewi Oka’s Leeway Foundation-funded workshop for those who identified as “members of (im)migrant, refugee, nondocumented and/or displaced communities, with priority given to women and LGBTQ people of color.”

The politically motivated workshop culminated in a public reading of the participants’ poems on April 7 at Asian Arts Initiative — and three of the poets shared their works with Generocity, below.


Just as the November election results and the aftermath affected Oka’s motivation for the workshop, Antarikso felt like she felt an “urgency to create art as a response to political and social injustice.”

“As an American citizen, I’m in a privileged position to be able to speak out, but there are so many others who are afraid and hiding, who can’t speak,” she said. “I wanted to turn the sense of despair and create work that spoke to what it means to be an immigrant in these times, to hopefully invoke a sense of empathy to what people go through when they leave everything behind to start over again to live in a free society.”

Read Antarikso’s poem here.

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Gemelle John, who’s written poems for Cleaver Magazine’sLife as Activism,” decided to get involved in the workshop to continue her practice of poetry-as-activism.

“Poetry and activism have always existed in a mutual space for me,” John said in an email. “When I saw the listing for the workshop it seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice both and grow.”

Read John’s poem here.


Allowing the true, unfiltered voice to be heard was a reason for Karlamaria, another participant, to get involved with the workshop. That motivation is made clear with her poem, “This poem is in no offense to my dog, she did save me after all.” She believes you have to be honest when writing poetry.

“I always lived in fear,” Karlamaria said in an email. “Living in fear sometimes leads to lying for your survival. I was tired of lying and wanted to speak my truth and i felt like this workshop would give me the tools/space to do so.”

Read Karlamaria’s poem here.

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