For my digital learning module, I’d like to unpack how spoken word – digitally transmitted throughout the Asian-American world – can be utilized as a form of revisionist education that de-centers white narratives. Furthermore, I’ll examine how digital poetics – here as a video of my spoken word performance and later in my final project as a digital collage of hyperlink poems – exists as a powerful representation of Asian-American identity.
The contemporary movement of spoken word is rooted in a protest tradition; specifically, I trace it back to the Black Arts movement led by poets like Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez. While these poets were not performance poets per se, their poetics fundamentally pushed poetry in its ability to operate as a social force. Thus, spoken word in its modern incarnation has sought to re-examine the very meaning of truth and story; whereas poems that are understood to speak to truth and reality have been reserved for white poets – mostly male – while poets of color are simply understood as performers and storytellers, spoken word re-centers marginalized voices.
AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) voices, then, are an essential addition to the canon of resistance poetics. Especially in the context of the model, silent minority, the power of AAPI poetics lies in its refusal of the white imagination. Whereas historically, Asian-American identity has been almost entirely constructed by white understandings of Asian-ness, AAPI poetry flips that dynamic on its head.
That is the context from which I write my spoken word pieces. Not all of my pieces are written for the stage, but when I write stage pieces, I have a very specific goal of educating an audience. “asian art” does this by creating an Asia-America from the AAPI imagination rather than the white one. The radical act of re-imagination invites the audience – both on and off screen – to envision a united AAPI community in solidarity across lines of class, gender, nationality, sexuality, and disability. With “asian art”, I wanted to speak to the latent desires and frustrations of Asia-America.
The act of recording and publishing spoken word pieces, while simple, is also one of resistance. Whereas the publishing industry has historically restricted the right of being heard to white male voices, the digital world has no such limitations. Uploading a spoken word piece is an argument for a validity of our narratives that is not subject to the white gaze. Indeed, it’s poetic that we are re-appropriating the digital representations that have been used to stereotype and dehumanize us.