A World of Words: Asian American Poets at the Library of Congress
Books by poets Cathy Linh Che, Eugenia Leigh, R. A. Villanueva and Ocean Vuong, who read at the Library of Congress on May 4, 2015.
To be a writer is to live in the world of words. To get a thrill and a chill from a well-turned phrase. To become blissfully lost in the scenes and emotions other writers create. To be startled into a reality you had not yet considered.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading and panel featuring some of today’s most notable Asian American poets: Cathy Linh Che, Eugenia Leigh, R. A. Villanueva and Ocean Vuong. I was there on behalf of Poets & Writers, an organization for which I serve on an advisory committee and one of the event’s hosts. (www.pw.org).
The words of these writers were powerful, raw, tender, emotional and rooted in family, love, war and culture across the Asian diaspora from Korea to Vietnam to the Phillipines and then to America. After their individual presentations, they talked about “Asian American Literature Today” on a panel moderated by Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis, founding director of The Asian American Literary Review. In addition to being blown away by their words, I was moved that they all had agreed to bear witness to the struggles in Baltimore and across America and to express solidarity with those struggles.
“Asian American Literature Today” panel moderated by Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis with (l-r) Eugenia Leigh, Cathy Linh Che, R. A. Villanueva and Ocean Vuong at the Library of Congress on May 4, 2015.
Ocean Vuong, a 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellow, addressed the particularity of being an Asian American poet: “We arrive at this art through great loss. Loss of land, of art, of language…We are carrying on the continuation of a lineage, not only of Asia but the lineage of storytelling.”
“That’s the gift: to create another world. One world is not enough.”
Eugenia Leigh, Cathy Minh Che and R. A. Villanueva at the LOC.
When asked about the relationship between poetry and politics, especially in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s murder, R. A. Villanueva, founding editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing and Art, replied: “When you write poems inside a moment, you try to give tribute to that moment. Everything we write is political. Everything we read is political.”
“When you write, you are always including and excluding. You reckon with what is in front of you. We write poems that bear witness.”
“We’re writing the poems that we need to write to build a bridge with others whose histories are as fraught as ours.”
Yes, for me it was a blessing to be introduced to these voices.