April is National Poetry Month, and this year it’s the Year of The Dragon, which practically calls out for Asian American poets to take our work up to another level.
As a Lao American poet, I’m aware poetry competes with some pretty heavy hitters these days, from video games and movies, to sports and porn. But as I remind my students regularly, poetry is an art that has thrived for centuries because people ARE able to get passionate about it. There, we've found our secret histories, our best memories, our loves and fears, laughter and souls.
The search and mystery are part of the fun. Some gravitate to poets like Pablo Neruda and Garrett Hongo. Others love the work of Mong-Lan, Lee Herrick or Barbara Jane Reyes. There are as many styles as there are tastes. Some poets use science fiction, fantasy and detective mysteries, others find poetry within video games, Godzilla and sports. Some like haiku and sestinas, others like ca dao. But there’s an amazing world of poetry out there for the discovery, especially among Asian American writers.
I’d never argue that all poems are equal. Some poems make me yawn, even from poets I admire, and I’m sure vice-versa. But we should never stop looking for the bright gems, because once found, they linger with you, sometimes for a lifetime. A good line can even change the whole way you see the world, if you run into it at the right time, in the right place in your life.
Poems are a great way to see the many ways of seeing the world. In the Asian American community, there are poems you could seek out from over 60 different cultures all mingling and interacting with other voices from around the world. It is in their poems we see Hmong, Khmu, Tai Dam, Karen, Sri Lankans, Tongans, and others exploring what it means to be a people, and what it means to share a world.
Whether we’re reading or writing on University Avenue or watching a performance from a corner of Phnom Penh, a good poem creates connections as we explore our inner lives.
Take some time to read some poetry, and even better, write your own poems to add your voice to the great conversation that is the human journey.