With the definition of “Asian-American” constantly in flux, broader and broader intersections of ethnicity have begun to fall under this umbrella. In the poetry realm, there has been a surge in new work from Korean-, Vietnamese- and mixed race-Americans. And while I’ve only just begun to investigate this fascinating universe, I’ve found some truly BadA$$ work that simply must be shared. (My picks followed by a quick list of where to find new poems.)
MY TOP FIVE:
1. Sally Wen Mao, who first came to my attention several years ago when she hit the pages of Cave Wall and Drunken Boat and now has a new collection out with Alice James Books.
From Mad Honey Symposium:
APIOLOGY, WITH STIGMA
Stigma, n. (in flowers) the female part of the pistil
that receives pollen during pollination
For Melissa W.
There is no real love in the apiary.
Hive mentality: 1. Fatten until you reign
your country on a throne of propolis.
2. Copulate until you explode
with larval broods. Honey makes me sick,
and so does the Queen Bee. Even
in sleep, I see the arrows point at drones
stuck to the ceiling, sparkling spastically
like the sequins on a girl’s yellow prom
dress. Some girls pray to be Queen.
They think: wouldn’t it be terrific, to be
wanted like that. Wouldn’t it be terrific
to be stroked and adored, to lose your virginity
in the glorious aftermath of royal jelly.
Wouldn’t be terrific to roost, rest, be the envy
and the mother of all. But one girl turns
the other way. At lunch she eats green tea mochi
on the edge of the field, scouts unpopulated
places—a lemon tree, a barberry bush.
Dreading assemblies and cafeterias, she ducks
under the library’s front steps, smuggling
field guides or National Geographics
with covers of jewel beetles and capybaras,
counting the minutes until recess is over
and biology begins. The price of sincerity:
when the honeybee shucks the anthers
from the camellia, an anthem begins.
It’s a slow soprano. An anathema. It screams…
2. Performance Poet and activist Bao Phi.
From Sông I Sing (Coffee House Press)
Under the ocean where I was created
in a womb of dancing atoms, a tectonic tale
is breaking the skin of sea floor. Dreams burn here:
lava flows underwater like bleeding fireballs,
sunless sleep disturbed as they listened
for the sound of the nightmares they dropped.
Fat Man and the Little Boy drop,
like two suns tumbling, sent to destroy creation,
no one will be left alive to listen
for the lessons we need to learn from this tale,
just a skyline made of a blossoming fireball
and a symphony of silenced screams horrible beyond…
3. Poet/Teacher/Artist Franny Choi
from her collection Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody)
4. Arlene Kim
also known as @quietlybananas
from What have you done to our ears to make us hear echoes?(Milkweed Editions)
I am also rather fond of this one, originally published at Blackbird:
My love. I tended him
after he fell. His charred wing stumps,
his elegy of scabbed feathers. Only then
would he accept a bed, me
in it. The memory burnt into his limbs
burned me, too, so that only my negative remained
in what amputated dreams he had, what
eerie ornithology haunted him. My hybrid,
neither bird nor angel—I came
to gather what boy there was left
I fold him paper suns, light them
on fire, hurl them skyward,
a revenge I can offer.
For a moment, the sun in his face,
twinned in his eyes.
For a moment, not the sun, but his face,
its reflection like the sun,
like an old story. In the water,
another sky, a ghost sun.
He didn’t know at first
if he was falling or…
FULL TEXT HERE
5. Award-wining poet & playwright Ed Bok-Lee (looking all cool with his super snazzy website)
Excerpt from Whorled (Coffee House Press)
On the other side of the world, there is a language I have never heard
It is beautiful, and in this dying tongue, there are words for Love and God
that resemble Bread and Wing
Or another forest language in which Mother and Knife
equal Drawer and Sing
And Island Wood is somewhere Desert Milk
And Berry, elsewhere is a Door
And if you added up all these dying words, and the people who speak them
All their memories, histories, and lessons
All their gods, jokes, rituals, and recipes
If you learned and stirred them, over and again, until
each utterance became a star, a new footprint, the marrow of a poem—
*originally appeared on Broadside from Red Dragonfly Press
See his website (linked above) for more poems.
Find new poets to fall in love with in:
Victoria Chang’s Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation anthology
Poetry Magazine’s Asian-American Voices in Poetry (with links)
And these journals:
Cha: An Asian Literary Journal
Asian American Journal
Asia Literary Review
You can also consult my Kick-Butt Asian-American Poets list (name pared down for Amazon filters), which is itself always in flux.
Happy reading!!! And be sure to share your finds in the comments.