‘I Didn’t Even Know About Them’ by Bertrand Bickersteth​

— Andrew Sargus Klein

Origins are personal; they’re political.

“Where are you from?” is often (too often) an incredibly loaded question. For the one asking the question, it can be a moment of unexamined marginalization—“you don’t look like people I associate this place with, so I’m genuinely curious!”—or flat out racism and/or xenophobia—“you don’t look like the people I associate this place with, and that’s a problem for me.”

There are contexts where the question makes sense, but as small talk, as idle chatter, as a throw-away question, “where are you from?” often says more about the one asking the question.

Bertrand Bickersteth’s poem, ‘I Didn’t Even Know About Them,’ is almost entirely about the complex mechanics of the question “where are you from?” Bickersteth methodically moves through no less than eighteen separate variations on an answers to that question, drawing out the response to the point where the question can’t hold its own weight, and it collapses.

The end of the poem refers back to the title, and adds an unexpected and difficult wrinkle. The speaker allows us to see a gap in their thinking, which is less about the question, and more about the knowing of one’s own place and how one relates to it.

Cosmonauts Avenue