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‘People think refugees just likely know things’ (a found research poem)

Erin 1.jpg

Illustration by Andrea Armstrong.

Found and shaped by Erin Goheen Glanville, these (almost entirely in order) words are the most frequently repeated words in the first twelve interviews conducted as part of the Worn Words research project. Worn Words is an applied multi-media project, producing creative digital narratives for education on refugee discourse. But part way through the project I became stuck in a highly cognitive space, unable to be creative with the footage I had collected. So I tried a host of ways to get my brain in to a different mode, including creating word clouds with the NVivo software (a programme for analysing the data of research interviews) that I was using. It occurred to me that a word cloud kept the words random, even as I sensed a web of relationships in the cloud that I wanted to trace. So I created a list of the words in a Word document and began playing with joining words on a line or adding prepositions to link key words. Any significant words I have added are in square brackets. One word has been repeated. Words like ‘to,’ ‘for,’ ‘and’, and ‘to be’ verbs were removed in the coding process, so I add them back in to the poem as needed for meaning.

The process of visualizing the interview data in this way resonated with my emotional experience of narrative inquiry as a research method: seeing rich but hazy relationships among the data points, experimenting with how to make those relations clear, prioritizing among the variety of linkages, worrying about the power you have as the researcher to make peoples’ narratives mean something other than what they mean, hoping you can communicate the significance of your findings as knowledge, delighting in the surprise when what you saw through a haze clarifies in the oddest of ways, and in the end knowing how partial (in both senses of the word) knowledge always is while you wonder whether anyone will read your work. The stilted style of this poem speaks to me of the way bureaucratic and legal rhetoric—so highly rational and formal—interfaces uneasily with the bright intensity of peoples’ experiences seeking refuge. And as hard as I tried to write the poem using a single line of thought, random words bulged out, required their own line, and announced themselves as a rebuttal. The impossibility of a single voice or narrator, speaks to the way our shared discourse is knit together: its thickness and entanglement, and—lacking a narrative weave—its contradictions.

Erin 2.jpg

Illustration by Andrea Armstrong.

“People think refugees just likely know things” (a found research poem)












The working kinds


want borders, terms, something


Canada talks differently

feelings also need

mean times.


Welcome a human-making story.

                                                     Experience community.

                                                                                               Word well.

                                                                                                                  Live questioning.

Going to countries is [an act of] evening [out].


Person’s ‘good look’ parts


Taking places?


Ideas happened:

Canadian world = much humanitarianism (nations giving)




Many understandings

of life years back

creates sense.




Around ‘little’

                 start listening,

                                   changing together.

                                                             Become helpful

                                                                                     [outside] state spaces.

                                                                                                                   [Let] trauma speak.

Government systems try,

call someone coming, ‘family,’

tell particular moving [stories].



            Find support!

                                 **First politics**


Immigrant culture?

Saying conversations at another

often protects moments from wonder.


Within important homes:

Legal Crossing.


Definitively using arrivals,




organizations power thoughts,

interviews getting forced.


History at every point.


Sometimes migrations [don’t] quite

[make] somebody greatly care:

a level of hard displacement,

certain claimants, hoping and sure,

fact sharing, house sharing.

Children securely away,



Love a book of imaginal indigenous.


Never asking,



                                                         languages able to process challenging issues.


Workers bring everything

—context, friends, reading, movement, reason, relations, whatever—


Claim opportunities.

Anything rather than thanks narratives.


Society’s openness

to everybody curiously beautiful

is building fear projects,

whether connecting situations or inviting othering.







with practical


of safe


Erin Goheen Glanville

Erin Goheen Glanville, Ph.D. (McMaster University) is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada. Her current research project, “Digital Storytelling as a Method for Critical Dialogue on Refugees in Canada,” explores how to tell new stories about overused, ordinary words in order to support a culture of listening rather than influence. This work is done in consultation with local refugee claimant support organisations. Glanville is also working on a two-year, international research project funded by the British Academy, “Hostile Environments: Policies, Stories, Responses.

Glanville is the co-editor of Countering Displacements: The Creativity and Resilience of Indigenous and Refugee-ed Peoples (University of Alberta Press, 2012) and has published articles and book chapters connecting refugee narratives to humanitarian communication, international relations’ “responsibility to protect,” diaspora theory and transnationalism, faith-based activism, and globalization and postcolonial studies. Her most recent publication is “Refracting Exoticism in Video Representations of the Victim-Refugee: K’Naan, Angelina Jolie, and Research Responsibilities” in Crossings: Journal of Migration and Culture (2019).

Deeply invested in local community, she runs workshops for community groups using multimedia narratives to spark critical discussions about the way media shapes representations of refugee-ed people. She also offers professional development retreats for humanitarian organisations on their practice of storytelling.

Find her personal website at

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