Poetry Challenge: Create A List Poem That Grapples With Rise Of Anti-Asian Racism

Mar 31, 2021
Originally published on April 5, 2021 1:19 pm

Over the years, NPR's poetry community has turned both painful and joyful experiences into magnificent work.

As the world still endures the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. also grieves over increased violence against Asian Americans and a mass shooting in Georgia that left six women of Asian descent dead.

"Let's be clear: Anti-Asian violence and discrimination are not new. But, this racism seems to be heightened," says Kwame Alexander, NPR's resident poet. "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, advocate against it."

"Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today," by Emily Jungmin Yoon, is a list poem that reflects the coldness of the world and how it wears on us. Yoon is a South Korean-born poet pursuing her Ph.D. in Korean literature at the University of Chicago.

Alexander and Morning Edition's Rachel Martin ask listeners: How do you cope with recent anti-Asian violence and discrimination? Tell us in a list poem.

Your poem doesn't have to rhyme. It just needs to have an ordered list with details that show your state of mind — and must begin with the word "today."

Share your poem through the form below. Then Alexander will take lines from some of your pieces and create a community crowdsourced poem. Alexander and Martin will read it on air, and NPR will publish it online, where contributors will be credited.

This callout closed Monday, April 5.

Here are the terms of the callout:

By providing your Submission to us, you agree that you have read, understand and accept the following terms in relation to the content and information (your "Submission") you are providing to National Public Radio ("NPR," "us" or "our"):

You are submitting content pursuant to a callout by Morning Edition related to a segment with Kwame Alexander wherein he creates unique poetry based on listener submissions. You understand that you are submitting content for the purpose of having Kwame use that content to create a new poem or poems ("Poem") with the material you submit. You must be over the age of 18 to submit material.

You will retain copyright in your Submission, but agree that NPR and/or Kwame Alexander may edit, modify, use, excerpt, publish, adapt or otherwise make derivative works from your Submission and use your Submission or derivative works in whole or in part in any media or format and/or use the Submission or Poem for journalistic and/or promotional purposes generally, and may allow others to do so. You understand that the Poem created by Kwame Alexander will be a new creative work and may be distributed through NPR's programs (or other media), and the Poem and programs can be separately subject to copyright protection. Your Submission does not plagiarize or otherwise infringe any third-party copyright, moral rights or any other intellectual property rights or similar rights. You have not copied any part of your Submission from another source. If your Submission is selected for inclusion in the Poem, you will be acknowledged in a list of contributors on NPR's website or otherwise receive appropriate credit, but failure to do so shall not be deemed a breach of your rights.

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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.