When I was younger it seemed that my parents and I learned English together. My mother used to read to me at night, but more accurately it was a partnership. My mother and I learned a lot of other things together, too: how to play the piano, how to work in a clinic, how to put together college apps—all through my life I have had a companion, and my earliest memories of this companionship begin when we were first learning the language that I would later make my own, as I am now a poet myself.
Language, as I learned growing up a first-generation ABC, is empowering. Poet Brenda Hillman was once asked why her poems consisted of words thrown all over white space, instead of in a form, like a sonnet, and she said, "because my life didn't turn out that way." The written word can express order or disorder, and so we read to hear the voices of those who have nothing but language to express themselves.
Every good book, then, has struggle. Sometimes these struggles are grave and reflect the author's own harrowing experiences. Poet Ocean Vuong was homeless for much of the time he was at CUNY but that didn't stop him from expressing what he wanted to express—the difficulties of being an immigrant, of being Asian-American, of being queer. Struggle unites us and builds bridges between people.