The month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! We get to celebrate the incredible contributions of Asian and Pacific Islanders to American culture this month. If you aren’t familiar with Asian/Pacific American poets, today’s post will give you a good place to get started!
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Let’s begin with some brilliant poems by Asian and Pacific Americans to read this month (and all year long!). We’ve included the first line and a little bit about each poem to whet your appetite.
Tanka, by Sadakichi Hartmann: “Winter? Spring? Who knows?” In this poem, Hartmann writes a series of tankas (a Japanese formal poem related to the haiku) describing in exquisite detail the blended layers of winter and spring. The poem sounds soft and soothing and is filled with gorgeous imagery.
Things We Carry on the Sea, by Wang Ping: “We carry our tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother” This poem explores the heartbreak and sorrow in moving away from home to a new country. While it contains references to dark moments in history, it’s not violent or graphic and provides both a historical background and an emotional perspective on immigration.
Something Whispered in the Shakuhachi, by Garrett Hongo: “No one knew the secret of my flutes” This poem tells the story of a Japanese-American farmer who was placed in a US internment camp during WWII. Despite its heavy subject matter, it’s told in a way that reflects on the experience without going into graphic detail. The voice of the poet is so clear and engaging that it’s really worth reading and discussing with the family.
The Dream of Shoji, by Kimiko Hahn: “How to say milk?” This poem describes a small moment where the poet asks her mother for Japanese words she’s forgotten. It’s a short and powerful poem that captures the feeling of growing up shifting between two languages and forgetting one.
I Ask My Mother to Sing, by Li-Young Lee: “She begins, and my grandmother joins her.” In this poem, Lee describes hearing his mother and grandmother sing about their Chinese heritage and history. It’s a short and vivid poem with a bittersweet mixture of remembrance and celebration.
We also have a lot of poetry book recommendations for you today. Be sure to check out the list below and celebrate the wonderful contributions of Asian/Pacific Americans!
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai (a verse novel)
A Suitcase of Seaweed: And Other Poems, by Janet Wong
My Chinatown: One Year of Poems, by Kam Mak
Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems), by Linda Sue Park
Maples in the Mist: Poems for Children from the Tang Dynasty, by Minfong Ho