Poetry News

Minnesota Public Radio Spotlights Bao Phi

By Harriet Staff

Bao Phi

At Minnesota Public Radio, listen to Marianne Combs's interview with Minnesota writer and spoken word artist Bao Phi. Phi, whose family immigrated from Vietnam in the 1970s and settled in Minneapolis, writes about his experiences as a son and a father with the lingering memory of violence, "part of my life since forever," he explains. More, from there:

His family settled in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, where neighbors associated them with a failed war — and the enemy.

"People would routinely say things like 'go back to where you come from,'" he said. "People thought we were stealing their pets and eating them."

Once, when his father was repairing the garage after it had been vandalized, he started yelling in Vietnamese that he was in pain. Phi wrote a poem about it that appears in his latest book, "Thousand Star Hotel." An excerpt:

I want my dad to be normal not yell in his foreign tongue that everyone is out to get him. I'm sure they're just mosquitoes but I am too scared of him to tell him. I'm sure they're just mosquitoes even when I see dull lead fragments sticking into his brown skin. I didn't want to believe him, even as I helped him wash his wounds.

Someone had been taking potshots at Phi's father with a BB gun. Phi said he wrote the poem in part as an apology to his parents. As a young immigrant, he found himself caught between the society he lived in and the cultural differences of his parents.

"I wanted to NOT be victimized, right?" he said. "I didn't want to be different. I didn't want us to be the targets that we obviously were."

Bao Phi is an accomplished writer and spoken word artist. His first book of poems, "Sông I Sing," was praised by the New York Times. But he didn't really start writing about his youth until the birth of his daughter. Phi remembers visiting a clinic with his then-partner for a prenatal consultation:

"One of the questions was, 'Have you or anyone in your family been traumatized by war?' And of course we had been traumatized by war, of course, but I don't think it really hit me until that moment, sitting there — the idea of passing my trauma down to my child became very, very real."

Listen and read more at Minnesota Public Radio.

Originally Published: May 19th, 2017