Get inspired in 2023 with these meaningful poems on environmental justice, mental wellbeing, and women’s empowerment, by these purposeful emerging poets from APAC.

As we move into a new year, open yourself to new perspectives and get inspired by these 7 impact-driven poets from APAC, who have dared to defy the conventional through their narratives on humanity and its many complexities. From tales of diaspora to the human rights movement, to climate change, discover your own unique calling through this powerful poetry collection.  

Purposeful Poets from APAC

SISTERHOOD” – Deborah Emmanuel

A woman comes into a room

with the dress you jewel-eyed

but couldn’t lift off the rack.

Diamonds are too cheap

for a soul like yours.

 

A woman comes into a room.

You are programmed to

calculate the chasms

between her body,

your body, and the perfect body.

Turn the algorithm off.

 

A woman comes into a room

with another woman.

They look like they are in love.

You imagine that one of them

is more man than the other

so it makes some sense.

 

A woman comes into a room

you are renting out.

Her face is the first day of spring.

You send her on her way

before your boyfriend gets home.

 

A woman comes into a room

wearing a headscarf.

She must be less

liberated than you.

 

A woman comes into a room

you have grown into like vines.

You tell her to leave

without knowing her name.

 

A woman comes into a room

without any clothes on.

She must be asking for it.

 

A woman comes into a room,

tears bleeding from her eyes.

She should control herself.

 

A woman comes into a room.

You are also a woman.

You smile into her eyes.

 

Sisterhood.

Purposeful Poets from APAC_Deborah Emmanuel

@deborahemmanuel88

A poet, slam poetry performer, and inspirational speaker, Deborah Emmanuel hails from Singapore. Her works revolve around themes of womanhood, political revolution, and a sense of self and spirituality. Deborah’s poem “Sisterhood” is born out of the pain and joy of what it means “to be a woman,” and touches on feminism and social injustices. Deborah’s work has earned her global recognition in the world of poetry, including her Reaching your inner Tipping Point talk at TEDxSingapore and performances at The Performance Theatre

Confessions of a minority student” – Jennifer Wong

I have forgotten how it all started.                                                         

This tightening of my throat grows                                                                 

and I cannot breathe. Suddenly                                                  

college dorms and students’ smiles                                                                 

nauseate me. Here where I used to                                                                 

imagine a promising life, a new circle                                        

away from family, honest folks                                                    

who worked and worked, and never lived.                                                   

Choices they never made in their sagging skin,                       

the fine lines around their eyes.                                                   

Uni: a mere word, carefree                                                            

for those who can afford it, my dear.                                           

Who am I to believe in it?                                                                        

But I must prove that I too                                                          

am good enough for this game.                                                  

Don’t be so sensitive, you say.                                                        

But even racism in its simplest form                                                  

is brutal, a day-to-day butchering.                                                                

They tell me make yourself at home here                                 

though today, just like yesterday and                                                   

the day before, no one joins me                                                 

at the dining hall where I sit.                                                                  

Who cares about what I think                                                   

as I cube potatoes in silence?                                                      

It is not alright                                    to be lonely.

Confessions of a minority student_Poem_Jennifer Wong

festival.org.hk

Born in Hong Kong, Jennifer Wong is an award-winning poet with many accomplishments under her belt. Jennifer had always been interested in literature, and later went on to complete a creative writing PhD on Chinese diaspora poetry at Oxford Brookes University. The author of three poetry books, her poem Confessions of a minority student,” is featured as part of her latest collection, Letters Home, which depicts the displacement of young Asian women living overseas. Jennifer integrateshumour, hope and optimismin the narrative, stemming from her personal experiences, and those of the Asian diasporic community. 

River to River” – Hai-Dang Phan

River spidering across the wall, sailing 

through the air. River flashing with silver 

sequins fastened to sunbeams. River always 

in pieces, a torn ribbon streaming everywhere.

River carving out a canyon through the years, 

seen from a sudden grassy overlook, 

an old bridge, a new shoreline, endlessly

crossing and recrossing our lives. River 

this winter with sixteen eagles alert 

and searching. River unfrozen and pooling 

around the ankles of trees in springtime, 

daring us closer. River asleep inside 

the black night like a spent lover, 

dreaming of being a chandelier of rain, 

first velvet wet drops on bare skin. Go, 

go on. Conveyor belt of clouds, destroyer 

and preserver of towns, longest breath 

of the earth, tell us what floating means 

to you. Some trees are weeping, river. 

Speak of all you carry and carry off

in river song and river silence. Be horse, 

be ferry, carry us from now to next to. 

River, I’m done with fading shadows. 

Give me daylight broken and scattered

across your fluid transparent face, 

come meet me with the moon and the stars 

running and tumbling along your sides. 

River swinging open like a gate to the sea,

time’s no calendar of months, you say,

but water in the aftermath of light.  

Your drifting cargo tells us everything 

arrives from far away and long ago 

and ends in the body, boat of heartache 

and ecstasy we pilot, in quest of passage also. 

River we call Mississippi or Mekong, 

sing us forth to nowhere but here, 

with your perfect memory be our flood.

Purposeful Poets from APAC_Hai-Dang Phan

sarabandebooks.org

Hai-Dang Phan is a Vietnamese poet based in the United States, where he first arrived with his family as a political refugee. He grew up in Wisconsin, and later received a PhD in literary studies at the University of Wisconsin. Hai-Dang has published many notable poetry collections narrating a provocative perception of war and dislocation. His poetry series, Reenactments, captures the pain, resilience, and courage of the immigrant community, and was acclaimed as a “vital addition” to the Asian diaspora dialogues.

Gathering the Voices”- Yumi Fuzuki 

When August comes, “voices”

gather from across Japan.

Voices of war experience.

The aged survivors’

words tremble from anger and fear and

the youth who know nothing of war are convinced in their surprise.

“The wounds have not yet healed,” they say.

I spent the anniversary this year

with the story of a woman who was exposed in utero in Hiroshima.

 

Many soldiers who return from the battlefield

suffer flashbacks from PTSD, they say.

Unable to release the trauma,

they re-experience it all, against their will.

For them, it’s not the past, or an after-effect.

It is an imminent danger in this very moment,

and each time, their heart sheds blood anew.

Counselling techniques have advanced.

But I’ve never heard someone argue

that the deep harm caused to soldiers’ minds

is reason enough not to send them to battle.

In death tolls seen on screen, in the shadow of bombing raids,

are littered unspeakable damage

and unseen wounds.

 

How has “peace” come to be talked about in Japan?

The most widely known “peace” is the one in the Constitution,

long spoken of as an antonym for war.

In daily conversation, though, the meaning may indeed be different—

a calm and relaxed state of mind, it suggests.

This peace is not something that can be controlled with sheer force;

it exists softly inside one’s own heart.

And with it comes an assurance toward the world

which nothing can disturb.

The Japanese do not verbalize this,

so what is “peace” to us may seem a strange thing,

quite unlike other nations envision it.

A societal “peace” maintained through order and diplomacy

and this inner “peace” flow together,

gently rippling

at my feet.

 

When we think of peace,

let us look for the wounds.

So as not to cover over unseen injuries

with vague, big words.

So as not to close ourselves off

or turn our eyes from that hurt

in our desperation for tranquillity.

So that above all else, we do not collude with those who cause harm.

In belief that we can change

our own selves for the better.

 

Let us listen to the voices

of those who survive.

And I will speak without hesitation

in this voice.

(Translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles)

Gathering the Voices_Poem_Yumi Fuzuki

japanesegarden.org

Originally from Hokkaido, Yumi Fuzuki, became an overnight sensation as one of the youngest awardees to receive the prestigious Gendai Shi Techō, and Maruyama Yutaka Memorial Modern Poetry prizes in 2010. Gathering the Voices was written and performed by Yumi at the Tokyo Peace Symposium 2022, in commemoration of the Peace Memorial Ceremonies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Her poetry explores the perseverance of people in rebuilding peace after war and the many adversities faced.  

Drift” – Jennifer Huang

I wanted this poem to be about dropping textbooks on

my arm to get out of practicing violin. To be about

grandfather hitting mom, and how decades later, I

could still feel the sting. About ancestors changing

their last name to Guang. But instead,

 

this poem wants to be about dad’s beet face when he

has exactly one drink: how, outside of a Paris café,

glasses of wine in hand, brother and I glow like that

one Van Gogh painting. It wants to be about mom

wafting prayers as she stirs ribs and daikon in a pot for

hours. The poem becomes the prayers,

 

and the prayers become my body. The body, I notice.

plays a symphony, the stomach grumbling, and

becomes the act of crusting salmon with miso and

putting it in the convection oven I got

 

from a dear friend. The presence of beating hearts

through objects passed down: beanie baby,

moonstones, Tarot deck, calendula oil, coffee grinder

cactus. It finally stretches to the South-facing window.

Drift_Poem_Jennifer Huang

lavendermagazine.com

Jennifer Huang, is a Taiwanese-American poet and writer from Maryland who recently launched their debut poetry book, Return Flight. The collection maps out the effects brought by lifelong trauma, along the lines of one’s sexuality and desires. Drift builds on the poet’s traumatic past, and brings a sense of nostalgia and gratitude. Jennifer’s transformative narrative in Return Flight has gained global recognition, and won them the Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry in 2021. 

Loggers, Post Fire” – Amanda Anastasi 

Before renewal can begin its certain

work in the tree heads; before new

 

green can sprout or flourish, again

they enter. From a dark tree hollow,

 

a glider peers out to a place where

destruction had swept the trees

 

and marsupials bolted to the hills,

their limbs burning. The machines

 

now border the remaining tree ferns,

making flat newly germinating plants.

 

They begin their task of removing

rotting timber: the food for insects,

 

the shelter for plants and funghi,

currently nourishing bandicoots.

 

They make their dent into the way of things,

disrupting soil that will bring the next yield;

 

the next birth from black. After the shouts

in Fluoro and vehicles have retreated,

 

the quietude and inevitable stirrings

return to the double-disturbed land.

Purposeful Poets from APAC_Amanda Anastasi

 amandaanastasipoetry.com

A climate change advocate and poet, Amanda Anastasi is based in Melbourne. Amanda is the Poet in Residence at the Monash Climate Change Communications Research Hub, where she currently assists with research, education, and awareness on the global environmental crisis. Amanda was a recipient of the Words In Winter Trentham Poetry Prize and Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize in 2017. Her poems spotlight the impact of climate change on our environment and livelihoods, and Loggers, Post Fire is among her many research-driven poems backed by science.

No butterfly at stairway to underground” – Zakariya Amataya

There are footprints

Footprints

                  walk down to

the forbidden path.  

There are no light

                            and no lamp

so there are no butterfly too

at stairway to underground

Lonely footstep

                       echo …echo

Step by step

                  I found myself. 

Poets from APAC_Zakariya Amataya

@ZakariyaAmataya

Award-winning poet, Zakariya Amataya, grew up in violence-stricken Narathiwat in Thailand, caused by ethnicity and religious differences. He published his free verse collection, No Women in Poetry, in 2010, and was Thailand’s first Muslim poet to win the prestigious SEA Write Award. Zakariya explores the universal themes of humanity, self-struggles, and coping with trauma, and through his poetry, has managed to “bridge the divide.”

Featured banner image credit: hear65.bandwagon.asia

 

Related Articles 

7 Inspirational Poems for Women About Resilience

7 Rising Instagram Poets from APAC to Follow

APAC’s Rising Young Entrepreneurs Driving Climate Change Solutions