National Poetry Month 2021: 7 Asian Poets Whose Words Are an Act of Resistance

By Hannah Eko Apr 05, 2021

In the wake of rising anti-Asian violence across America, stereotypes, and other people’s expectations, these poets have decided to do something radical – create. In celebration of National Poetry Month and in solidarity with artists of Asian descent, we salute these poets – just seven of many – for their creativity and their courage. 

Franny Choi
rnWhy You Should Know Her: A queer Korean American poet, Franny Choi is also a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective, a “multi-genre, multiracial” group featuring poets like Danez Smith and Jamila Woods. She is co-host of the bi-weekly poetry themed podcast, The VS an essayist, and a frequent slam poetry champion. Choi’s work centers the shape-shifting power of the femme and is in direct opposition to any who would objectify the femme Asian body. She is currently a Gaius Charles Bolin Fellow in English at Williams College. 

Appetizer:Pussy Monster” (in which the poet rearranges a Lil’ Wayne anthem)
rnMain Course: Soft Science” (Alice James Books, 2019)

Diana Khoi Nguyen
rnWhy You Should Know Her: Nguyen’s work has been called “wraithlike and astonishingly frontal.” She dedicated her first poetry collection, “Ghost Of” to those lost during the violence of the Vietnam War and in honor of her brother who died by suicide. She is a National Book Award finalist and multimedia artist who earned an MFA from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of Denver. Her advice to writers of color who feel unseen (advice all too relevant in our divided times) is one of careful defiance, “…take as much space as possible. Be big. Be loud. Speak up. All the time…”

Appetizer: “I Keep Getting Things Wrong”
rnMain Course:Ghost Of” (Omnidawn, 2018)

Monika Sok
rnWhy You Should Know Her: Sok writes poems which unflinchingly gaze upon the specter of the Cambodian genocide and its aftermath within her family and the extended diaspora. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Kundiman, and Hedgebrook. Sok credits her ancestors for her artistry, “Talking to them and trusting their guidance throughout my creative process––that’s how I discovered a lot of my poems…” Sok and several leading Asian American women will host a solidarity reading on April 8th in response to the continued acts of anti-Asian violence in America,  

Appetizer: “ABC for Refugees”
rnMain Course:A Nail the Evening Hangs On” (Cooper Canyon Press, 2020)

Fatimah Asghar
rnWhy You Should Know Her: An artist whose work spans multiple genres, Asghar is also an educator, teaching artist, and co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls. A poet of Pakistani-Kashmiri-American descent, Asghar has been published in Gulf Coast, The Margins, and The Academy of American Poets.  Along with Safah Elhillo, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me, a collection which celebrates the many manifestations of Muslim identity. She is vocal artist forever committed to social justice and a powerful witness for all people directly affected by the violences of sexual assault, generational trauma, and political oppression. 

Appetizer: “If They Should Come For Us”
rnMain Course:If They Come For Us” (One World/Random House, 2018)

rnWhy You Should Know Him: A poet unafraid to delve into the contradictions and experiences of his trans masculine selfhood, Yanyi writes across the frontiers of his intersecting identities: Chinese, American, queer, artist. In an interview with fellow poet, Chen Chen, Yani explained, “Having queerness and my Chineseness intersect has always been very hard because the queer parts of me were not really accepted in my family, but my Chineseness is so inside and tangled up with my family.” He is a generous creator; one who offers compassionate writing advice in the wake of consumer-driven technology and advocates for courageous truth telling. A  2018 Yale Younger Poet, Yanyi is currently an MFA candidate at New York University. His poems are striking in their uncompromising and precise language which focuses on mental health, belonging, and his experience as a trans person

rnMain Course: The Year of Blue Water” (Yale University Press, 2019)

Vijay Seshadri
rnWhy You Should Know Him: Seshadri’s work is a mastery of humanistic investigation. His poems eloquently cover the polarizing effects of American political strife, his own hyphenated identity, and the weight of Indian history. Sesadri’s poems continually make the ambiguous an attractive and inspiring location for any person occupying multiple realities. A poet who “…blends ironic intelligence, emotional frankness, radical self-awareness, and complex humor” like no one else, Seshadri is considered to be one of the greatest living poets of all time. In 2014 Seshadri was the first Asian American recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. 

Appetizer: “Bright Copper Kettles”
rnMain Course:That Was Now, This Is Then” (Graywolf Press, 2020)

Chen Chen
rnWhy You Should Know Him: Chen’s poetry is noted for its sly lyricism and surprising humor. He is a self-proclaimed fan of long titled works, an example: "When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities". His work surprises, and confounds easy assumptions about a singular Asian experience. A Kundiman Fellow, Chen holds an MFA from Syracuse University and a PhD from Texas Tech University. His first book was long-listed for a National Book Award and Chen specifically dedicated the book to fellow queer Chinese Americans. In a 2016 interview with PBS, Chen explained, “I felt like I couldn’t be Chinese and American and gay all at the same time. I felt like the world I was in was telling me that these had to be very separate things…Poems were a way for those different experiences to come together, for them to be in the same room.”

Appetizer: “I’m not a religious person but”
rnMain Course:When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities” (BOA Editions, 2017)

Hannah Eko is a Black-Nigerian writer, teaching artist, and creator of honeyknife, llc. Her work has been featured in Buzzfeed, Bust, b*tch, make/shift, and Aster(ix) magazines. She is the author of Honey is the Knife, an eclectic essay collection grounded in peace, power, and pleasure.