October 13, 12:20 p.m. – The English living room was filled with people sitting under a shroud of excited silence. They were all there for the Refugeeography, the introduction event of Bao Phi to the Cornell community. Bao Phi, visiting critic in the Department of English Literatures for this academic year, has won the Minnesota Grand Slam twice, qualified for the National Poetry Slam final, and has written three award-winning children’s books. After Bao Phi was presented on stage, he confessed that this event would be his first in-person performance since March 2020 – no one could have realized. He jumped into a set of seven poems, varying widely in tone and subject. He spoke with sardonicism and with heart, with deep hope and resolute sadness, of disappointment and redemption.

Bao Phi then spoke about his experience in publishing children’s books, mentioning the similarities between children’s books and structured books. One of those similarities, as he described, is that an average commercial children’s book is 32 pages long and must conform to the archetypal formula of the genre, like the structure of a villanelle or a sonnet. Responding to questions from the audience, Phi revealed how he went from anger as a way to solve injustice to hope as a way to solve social problems. Phi was inspired by becoming a father and undergoing therapy. After that, he turned his attention from destruction to utopian healing stories.

While writing from anger is about diagnosing a bad precedent to move away from, writing from hope is more powerful because it gives us a positive ideal to strive for. Phi demonstrated this method by reciting a poem that depicts a world without anti-Asian violence, a world of future joy where the suffering of the present has been extinguished. Grace Tran, Refugeography Reading Participant and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Migration Initiative, said: “What I gleaned from Wednesday’s event is that even in the midst of this unprecedented time… you can always heal, and more than that, you can always recognize the hardships and sufferings of the Asian American and Asian community. The advantage of working that focuses on transcendent ideals is that it is universal, as it sets a goal that remains constant despite ever-changing circumstances.

During the event, Bao Phi spoke about his origin story of writing. As a child he created funny stories and this hobby evolved into fantasy writing inspired by Dungeons & Dragons play and author JRR Tolkien, before his participation in his high school speech team heralded this. which would become his main profession at the university: spoken poetry. “All artists are trying to figure out what they have to add to a conversation or to the world,” Phi replied when asked about the relationship between her art and her identity. “Your identity has everything to do with it. He recounted how his art emerges from the way he engages in his world and how issues of race, class and nationality are part of it. “What I love about poetry is that each poem can be its own little self-contained world,” he continued.

Now, Phi is currently working on her third manuscript for adults, and a Vietnamese-American zombie apocalypse love story. While at Cornell, he hopes to be of service to students, faculty, and all other members of the community, spreading his writing skills to anyone who wants it. Overall, Phi’s poetry embodies the myriad ways of using history as a means of healing and teaches us that catharsis can be sung in many tones.

To learn more about Bao Phi, visit baophi.com or FOB (Friends of Bao) on Facebook. Bao Phi is expected to give another poetry reading in November. He has published two collections of poetry: Song i sing (2011) and Thousand Star Hotel (2017), as well as two children’s books: A different pong and My footprints.

Sophia Gottfried is a first year student at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]


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