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Youth poet Jessica Kim is in for a revolution


All this month, we are meeting the four finalists for this year's National Youth Poet Laureate. Today we have the West regional ambassador.

JESSICA KIM: I'm Jessica Kim, and I am the 2021 Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate. I just turned 18, and I live in Los Angeles, Calif. I'm a visually impaired Korean American writer.

I first started writing poetry when the pandemic first hit. It was a sort of survival mechanism in a fragile, fearful and sometimes frustrating world. And by moving around a lot and being visually impaired, I felt excluded from my communities and suffered in silence for a long time. But when I started writing, especially about my vulnerable identities, I was drawn to the autonomy of having control over my story and haven't stopped writing since then.

"Broken Abecedarian For America" - in that abecedarian, each line goes in alphabetical order from A to Z, so there would typically be 26 lines. But in my poem, I kind of played with the idea of breaking the abecedarian. So my poem is a 52-line piece with each alternating line going from A-B-C-D.

(Reading) America doesn't have a body, just the rupture from a pistol, broken like a mother's backbone. One night, I returned home to find her collapsing into her own tongue, a second-hand language she bought for a dollar.

I love breaking traditional forms, and I really wanted to portray the brokenness of American society by breaking that form. I think the fragility around American society, especially as a Korean American immigrant, as someone who's really uncertain of living their daily lives as an American but also not as an American kind of really intrigued me. So I was playing with that idea, that dichotomy of being so uncertain and fragile in America.

(Reading) At home, a mother afraid of school shootings says, be careful, as if I am not already full, tight stomached. Pulling my body closer to her is because it's the only unhardened object within reach. Unlike America, I inhabit a body I wish to vacate, and I know this isn't the answer she is searching for. I am defeated again when the syllables of the American dream vibrate like bombs ticking, ready to burst.

In the end, I want people to take away from my poems that I'm in for a revolution. And I'm going to change the world in my own small ways, one step at a time.

KELLY: That's Jessica Kim, finalist for 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Lim
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.