Poetry Challenge: Create A List Poem That Grapples With Rise Of Anti-Asian Racism
Attacks against Asian Americans have increased since the coronavirus pandemic began. Tell us how you cope with this anti-Asian violence and discrimination in the form of a list poem.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm here with MORNING EDITION poet in residence Kwame Alexander. Hi, Kwame.
KWAME ALEXANDER, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: Good morning. So we do this a lot, right? You and I turn to poetry and the written word in difficult times, and we have done that now for years. And here we are again in this place after the two mass shootings - one in Boulder, one in Atlanta - and what has been a steady rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
ALEXANDER: Let's be clear, Rachel - anti-Asian violence and discrimination, they aren't new. But this racism seems to be heightened. And the onus is not on Asian Americans to figure this out. Frankly, it's on white people. It's on the rest of us, individually, systemically, to talk about it, to pay attention to it, to advocate against it.
MARTIN: Yeah. And while I understand the power of poetry, I will say, you know, there are times when it actually doesn't feel like enough, you know?
ALEXANDER: I hear you. I mean, look; I'm a writer and a book-lover who understands that books can be windows that we look out of and see each other better, clearer. But I'd be naive to say that reading Asian and Asian American literature will stop this madness. I do think it's a start. The mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a child. So let us read Ha Jin and Linda Sue Park and Kimiko Hahn and Ocean Vuong. Perhaps this makes us more appreciative, more empathetic, more truly American.
MARTIN: More human, right?
ALEXANDER: Yes. Truly expand our notion of the human experience.
MARTIN: You brought a poem to share with us today.
ALEXANDER: I did. I did. It's a list poem, which is simply a poem that describes and collects content in a list form. This piece is by Emily Jungmin Yoon, a Korean poet who's pursuing her Ph.D. in Korean literature at the University of Chicago. She's the author of a poetry collection called "A Cruelty Special To Our Species." This poem is called "Between Autumn Equinox And Winter Solstice, Today." Read it with me?
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I read a Korean poem with the line, today you are the youngest you will ever be.
MARTIN: (Reading) Today I am the oldest I have been. Today we drink buckwheat tea. Today I have heat in my apartment.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today I think about the word chada in Korean. It means cold. It means to be filled with. It means to kick, to wear. Today we're worn.
MARTIN: (Reading) Today you wear the cold, your chilled skin. My heart kicks on my skin. Someone said winter has broken his windows. The heat inside and the cold outside sent lightning across glass.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) Today my heart wears you like curtains. Today it fills with you.
MARTIN: (Reading) The window in my room is full of leaves ready to fall. Chada, you say. It's tea. We drink. It's cold outside.
ALEXANDER: I chose this poem today because it speaks to me about the coldness in our world and how it wears on us. It speaks to me about love and death, but most importantly, I think it speaks about rebirth, that our resilience will triumph.
MARTIN: So, listeners, we're asking you to write a list poem about what you face, about what you wear, about how you navigate the day. Kwame will then do what he does. He'll take selected lines and compile a community crowd-sourced poem. You can submit your poem to us at npr.org/listpoem.
ALEXANDER: And your poem doesn't have to rhyme; it just needs to have an ordered list with details that show your state of mind, and it needs to begin with the word today.
MARTIN: Today. Kwame Alexander is the author of "Kwame Alexander's Free Write: Poetry Notebook" (ph). Thanks, as always, my friend.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Rachel. Let's get to writing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.