Brian Bilston is a poet who first became known posting his poems on twitter. His first book of poetry, You Took the Last Bus Home was published in 2017 and this year, Bilston published Diary of a Somebody, a book which mixes poetry with prose.
Fans of Bilston’s work will know that he never shies away from controversial topics including poems about American gun crime, Brexit and the refugee crisis. Particularly memorable for many readers is his poem, Refugees, which can be read forwards and backwards with very different meaning, a poem style that Bilston himself calls “forwardsy-backwardsy poems.” Adding “but there may be a better word than that.”
Read in one direction, the poem Refugees reflects the hatred refugees often suffer when they flee to safer shores only to be told to ‘go home’. However, read the other way, the poem is heart-warming, welcoming and inviting to refugees in need of asylum.
Refugees has previously featured in an anthology of poetry entitled From Syria with Love, which brings together poems, pictures, stories from young people living in a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon as well as stories and poetry from people who worked with these displaced children or were inspired by their stories. The profits from this book go to help refugee families in the camp.
With such a prominent message, it is no surprise that publisher, Palazzo Editions, snapped up the Refugees poem to adapt it into a children’s picture book. Refugees by Brian Bilston will be published in October this year and the poem will be accompanied by stunning and colourful illustrations by José Sanabria, a Colombian illustrator who has been living in Argentina since 1992.
The book will feature the poem’s lines written both ways, with very different images used to illustrate both the backwards and forwards viewpoint. On Twitter, Bilston explained that asking young readers to read it in reverse and “other permutations were considered but thought to be too problematic for readers.”
Refugees is a powerfully brilliant poem that highlights the need for understanding, kindness and compassion for refugees. This moving poem is a great message to be teaching children at a young age – and indeed may force many adults to re-think their anti-refugee prejudice too. At For Reading Addicts, we are certainly excited to read the finished book which is available for pre-order now. Until its release in October, the “forwardsy-backwardsy” poem can be found and read freely on Brian Bilston’s social media platforms, and above.