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The result is an incredibly emotional journey through the issues that Bao explores—but it’s emotion that’s grounded in quality writing and thoughtful political analysis, not just raw melodrama.

[ Guante, Hip Hop artist — via Guante.info ]

Bao’s debut collection, “Sông I Sing,” hit me in a different way. The poems here, at least to me, read like spoken-word pieces, and Bao’s understanding of structure and emotional arcs mirrors some of the tricks that we use in the slam world—for example, each of the poems in this collection has a knock-out last line. The result is an incredibly emotional journey through the issues that Bao explores—but it’s emotion that’s grounded in quality writing and thoughtful political analysis, not just raw melodrama. Again, that’s no small feat. If Bao ever decided to re-enter the slam world, I think he’d kick all our asses.

The highlight here is probably the section called “The Nguyêns,” a brilliant and even-more-brilliantly-realized concept that looks at over a dozen unrelated characters all with the same last name. These characters each own their culture(s) and struggle with their identities in different ways, and the result is a moving (in both senses of the word), impressionistic portrait of Vietnamese America. Other poems like “Race,” “Giving My Neighbor a Ride to Her Job” and more talk about race and racism in this country in a way that is eloquent yet unforgiving, righteously angry yet never once weighed down by the sensational histrionics associated with so much spoken-word.

The best poetry is transformative—it breaks you down, changes you, makes you see the world in a new way. “Sông I Sing” does that as well as any poetry book I’ve ever read. It’s gorgeously angry, laugh-out-loud funny and I even teared up a couple of times while reading it. And again, don’t take my word for it—Jeff Chang, David Mura and Li-Young Lee all loved it too. Here’s a purchase link.

I hope you’ll check out both of these collections. They both remind me what poetry is capable of, and give me inspiration to keep writing, reading, listening and communicating. Maybe they will for you too.