SX Blog


Boat People: A Conversation

15 September 2023

The bilingual edition of Boat People (Cardboard House Press, 2021), written by Mayra Santos-Febres and translated by Vanessa Pérez-Rosario has received Honorable Mention for best bilingual poetry book in the International Latino Book Award 2023 competition. To celebrate this recognition the AfroLatin@ Forum in conjunction with Small Axe and others is hosting an event with the author and the translator. 

Here's the registration link:



Praise for Boat People 


The ocean in Boat People is haunted and the book is the heartbreaking journey from sea to horizon. Melancholy and songlike, Santos-Febres documents the nameless, the chum: bodies set adrift by commerce. Like M. NourBese Philips’s Zong!, this phenomenal translation in which I become “a drop of fish sweat,” my body dancing to the poetry’s music but also lamenting the violences that underlie it.
—Carmen Giménez Smith, author of Be Recorder and Milk and Filth


Mayra Santos-Febres is one of our most powerful writers, and Boat People has long been a part of the poetic counter-tradition that shaped generations of Puerto Rican poets. Thanks to Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, English-language readers are now plunged into the depths of a text that, to echo Patrick Chamoiseau, is composed of "that strange conference of poets and great beings," lost at sea, tossed on shores, or caught in a world without return address or safe passage. Written like a border drawn on water, this oceanic book is both a source of life and a record of death. It remains as devastatingly urgent as the day it was written.
Raquel Salas Rivera, author of lo terciario and while they sleep (under the bed is another country)



Other Reviews

Boat People by Mayra Santos-Febres reviewed by Meaghan Coogan in Asymptote:

“Boat People endeavors to document the undocumented, the invisibilized, and the silenced who are lost to the sea.” 

“Santos-Febres’s Boat People documents the Black lives lost in the attempt to chase the mirage of the American Dream, in order to combat the silence and absence of archival records and humanizing discourse surrounding Black death, which is often reduced to numbers in a newspaper article or spectacularized violence in a photograph.”

Boat People by Mayra Santos-Febres reviewed by Katherine Hedeen in Modern Poetry in Translation:

“Thanks to translator Vanessa Pérez-Rosario and the tireless work of independent publisher of poetry in translation Cardboard House Press, U.S. readers are asked to question how borders are defined; to go beyond the anti-immigrant rhetoric of wall-building; to look east rather than south; to think of the sea.”

Boat People by Mayra Santos-Febres reviewed by Shash Trevett in The Times Literary Supplement:

“Brilliantly translated into English for the first time by Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, the book-length poem possesses a lyrical intensity enfolding centuries of desperate water crossings. It is a migration elegy and an oceanic hymn that mimics the creative and destructive power of the sea.”

Boat People by Mayra Santos-Febres reviewed by Greg Bem in Exacting Clam:

“The fatalism is amplified by a swollen language of stories of unacknowledgment and brutal survival: “identity unquestioned / and one more to the sea / a watery wilderness” (35). The poet calls forth the fragmentation of our discourse, at large, around the subject of migration along the margins, of consideration of refugees.”


Boat People by Mayra Santos-Febres reviewed by Zack Anderson in Harvard Review:

“Boat People joins a lineage of poignant works exploring the drift between borders and the constructedness of citizenship, ranging from the documentary (Heimrad Bäcker’s Seascape) to the epic (Caroline Bergvall’s Drift) to the elegiac (Asiya Wadud’s Syncope). Like these other works, Boat People is so impactful because its capaciousness and ambiguity only sharpens the reader’s sense of devastation.”

Boat People by Mayra Santos-Febres reviewed by Honora Spicer in World Literature Today:

“Gnashing and disassembling flesh and language at once, “la fauce azul / alafau sea sul,” Pérez-Rosario’s translation sustains this simultaneity and breakdown: “like the yawl that tossed your excess weight / into the blue maw / intothe bluem aw.” This spacing, repetition, reordering of proximity gestures toward bodies opening out in multiple ways, becoming un-numberable, un-indexical, un-categorizable.” 

“The Opacity of Language, the Empathy of Translation,”Aitor Bouso Gavín on Boat People in Hopscotch:

“As Pérez-Rosario brilliantly puts it, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border and the Atlantic, and the ecological and debt crisis in Puerto Rico, these poems have ‘the power to move readers in ways that statistics cannot.’”

Boat People by Mayra Santos Febres reviewed by Zoe Contros Kearl in Kenyon Review

“Mayra Santos-Febres’s collection Boat People, translated by Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, addresses the oft-undiscussed topic of undocumented migration in the Caribbean. In a numbered series of poems that are sparse and beautiful and rending, both in form and in content, Santos-Febres creates devastating narratives time and again.”