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A BOA AAPI Reading List

May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we're so excited to bring you a selection of new and backlist poetry titles by AAPI authors that exist at the intersection of identity, politics, queerness, and power. Spanning decades, experiences, and historical records, these collections explore vulnerability, and adolescence, love and systemic oppression. It's been our honor to publish them, and to share them with you now. 

Buffalo Girl by Jessica Q. Stark

In these hybrid poems, Jessica Q. Stark explores her mother’s fraught immigration to the United States from Vietnam at the end of war through the lens of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

Told through personal, national, and cultural histories, Buffalo Girl is a feminist indictment of the violence used to define and control women's bodies. Interspersed throughout this hybrid work are a series of collaged photographs, featuring Stark’s mother’s black-and-white photography from Vietnam beautifully and hauntingly layered over various natural landscapes — lush tropical plants, dense forests, pockets of wildflowers. Several illustrations from old Red Riding Hood children’s books can also be found embedded into these pieces. Juxtaposing the moral implications of Little Red Riding Hood with her mother's photography, Stark creates an image-text conversation that attends to the wolves lurking in the forests of our everyday lives. 



A Tinderbox in Three Acts by Cynthia Dewi Oka

Selected by Aracelis Girmay as a Blessing the Boats selection, A Tinderbox in Three Acts is at once elegy and exegesis, fact and invention. 

In her fourth poetry collection, Cynthia Dewi Oka performs a lyric accounting of the anti-Communist genocide of 1965, which, led by the Indonesian military and with American assistance, erased and devastated millions of lives in Indonesia. Under the New Order dictatorship that ruled by terror for over three decades in the aftermath, perpetrators of the killings were celebrated as national heroes while survivors were systemically silenced. Drawing on US state documents that were only declassified in recent years, Oka gives form and voice to the ghosts that continue to haunt subsequent generations despite decades of state-produced amnesia and disinformation.



Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced An Emergency by Chen Chen

What happens when everything falls away, when those you call on in times of need are themselves calling out for rescue? 

In his highly anticipated second collection, Chen Chen continues his investigation of family, both blood and chosen, examining what one inherits and what one invents, as a queer Asian American living through an era of Trump, mass shootings, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Always at work in the wrecked heart of this new collection is a switchboard operator, picking up and connecting calls. Raucous 2 a.m. prank calls. Whispered-in-a-classroom emergency calls. And sometimes, its pages record the dropping of a call, a failure or refusal to pick up. With irrepressible humor and play, these anarchic poems celebrate life, despite all that would crush aliveness. 



 Two Brown Dots by Danni Quintos

Two Brown Dots explores what it means to be a racially ambiguous, multiethnic, Asian American woman growing up in Kentucky. In stark, honest poems, Quintos recounts the messiness and confusion of being a typical ‘90s kid—watching Dirty Dancing at sleepovers, borrowing eye shadow out of a friend’s caboodle, crushing on a boy wearing khaki shorts to Sunday mass—while navigating the microaggressions of the neighbor kids, the awkwardness of puberty, and the casual cruelties of fellow teenagers. The mixed-race daughter of a dark skinned Filipino immigrant, Quintos retells family stories and Philippine folklore to try and make sense of an identity with roots on opposite sides of the globe.



Letters To A Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes

In Blessing the Boats selection collection Letters To A Young Brown Girl, Barbara Jane Reyes answers the questions of Filipino American girls and young women of color with bold affirmations of hard-won empathy, fierce intelligence, and a fine-tuned B.S. detector. The Brown Girl of these poems is fed up with being shushed, with being constantly told how foreign and unattractive and unwanted she is. She’s flipping tables and throwing chairs. She’s raising her voice. She’s keeping a sharp focus on the violences committed against her every day, and she’s writing through the depths of her “otherness” to find beauty and even grace amidst her rage. Simultaneously looking into the mirror and out into the world, Reyes exposes the sensitive nerve-endings of life under patriarchy as a visible immigrant woman of color as she reaches towards her unflinching center.



Documents by Jan-Henry Gray

Rooted in the experience of living in America as a queer undocumented Filipino, Documents maps the byzantine journey toward citizenship through legal records and fragmented recollections. In poems that repurpose the forms and procedures central to an immigrant’s experiences—birth certificates, identification cards, letters, and interviews—Jan-Henry Gray reveals the narrative limits of legal documentation while simultaneously embracing the intersections of identity, desire, heritage, love, and a new imagining of freedom.



Sky Country by Christine Kitano

Christine Kitano’s second poetry collection elicits a sense of hunger—an intense longing for home and an ache for human connection. Channeling both real and imagined immigration experiences of her own family—her grandmothers, who fled Korea and Japan; and her father, a Japanese American who was incarcerated during WWII—Kitano’s ambitious poetry speaks for those who have been historically silenced and displaced.



The Secret of Hoa Sen (Poems by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, Translated by Bruce Weigl and Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai) 

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is among the most exciting writers to emerge from post-war Vietnam. Bruce Weigl, driven by his personal experiences as a soldier during the war in Vietnam, has spent the past 20 years translating contemporary Vietnamese poetry. These penetrating poems, published in bilingual English and Vietnamese, build new bridges between two cultures bound together by war and destruction. The Secret of Hoa Sen, Quế Mai’s first full-length U.S. publication, shines with craft, art, and deeply felt humanity.



Angels for the Burning by David Mura

In Angels for the Burning, David Mura examines the experience of contemporary Asian Americans and the various aspects of familial history between first, second, and third-generation Japanese Americans. Mura believes that one of poetry's tasks is to explore the challenges to our identities as we encounter various "others" and other visions of ourselves and our world. Angels for the Burning attempts this task.



Precipitates by Debra Kang Dean 

Employing some of the link-and-shift techniques of the Japanese renku, the poems in Precipitates repeatedly allude to major themes in Ecclesiastes, while speaking, under the influence of the Buddhist “Heart Sutra,” to the hunger for perfection, to embrace change and find release from attachment. Weather serves as a metaphor for our headlong fall into aging and death.




Rose by Li-Young Lee

Influenced by the classical Chinese poets Li Bo and Tu Fu, Li-Young Lee’s poetry is noted for its use of silence and, according to Alex Lemon in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, its “near mysticism” which is nonetheless “fully engaged in life and memory while building and shaping the self from words.” Though at times described as a supremely lyric poet, Lee’s poems often use narrative and personal experience or memories to launch their investigations of the universal, which Lee discussed in an interview with Tina Chang for the Academy of American Poets: “If you rigorously dissect it, you realize that everything is a shape of the totality of causes. What’s another name for the totality of causes? The Cosmos. So everything is a shape of Cosmos or God. It feels like something bigger than me—that I can’t possibly fathom but am embedded in.”



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