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an invitation to your first (or 264th) poetry reading

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by Laura Yoo

I know that poetry has a reputation for being “highfalutin” and hoity toity. I know that some poems are hard and they seem utterly unreadable or unknowable. As I have confessed elsewhere before, even as an English major in college, I avoided taking the required poetry class until the very last semester.

But hear me out. Not all poetry is scary. I promise. Lots of poems are very readable and knowable. Often, poems tell stories, sometime really gritty, raw, and real stories about being human. They tell stories, whether they are fictionalized or based on the poet’s life, about how people live, exist, survive, love, and die. Different people turn to poetry looking for different things, and I turn to poetry for their poignant, particular storytelling.

So, I want to invite you to HoCoPoLitSo’s Nightbird event on April 27th with poet Noah Arhm Choi, the inaugural winner of HoCoPoLitSo’s Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize in 2021, and hear their stories.

In Cut to Bloom, Choi’s poems tell stories about family, umma (mom) and appa (dad), hurt, violence, love, language, self discovery, and names. This one about forgiveness stays with me:

Yes, it’s a story about “queer Asian Girls” but it’s also about mothers, daughters, weddings, love, and forgiveness – all things that many of us can relate to. 

How about these lines about being worthy?

Most days, it is hard to remember 

I am worthy to be loved, even without

the right answer, the right joke,

the right moment.

And yet, here is my wife, 

trying to tell me

a story around her toothbrush, 

bragging about me to her parents, 

bringing my favorite dessert home, as if 

I could still be an unpredictable ending

that she wants to see unfold.

Haven’t we questioned our worthiness? Haven’t we also been loved in this way too – or have craved for such love? Is this not a story that many of us are familiar with?

When asked what they are working on after Cut to Bloom, Choi said this:

I’m working on a 2nd poetry manuscript that has been orbiting around my father’s death in 2020, my divorce, and finally coming out as transgender and beginning to transition. Sometimes I wonder what will be the thread that ties all of these subjects together. Today that thread is a look at what it means to start over and again, how grief brings out truth even if its unbearable, how much life can change in unexpected ways when one claims themself. 

Are these – starting over, grief, life changing in unexpected ways, claiming oneself – not the stuff of our stories?

What I am trying to say is that you should come out to hear Noah Arhm Choi “unfold” their stories on stage on Thursday, April 27th at Monteabaro Hall at Howard Community College. Get your tickets right here. If you are a student (HCPSS high school or HCC), it’s free!

Whether this is your first poetry reading or your 264th poetry reading, you are all welcome to “poetry of belonging.”

Noah Arhm Choi is the author of Cut to Bloom (Write Bloody Publishing) the winner of the 2019 Write Bloody Prize. They received a MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and their work appears in Barrow Street, Blackbird, The Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Split this Rock and others. Noah was shortlisted for the Poetry International Prize and received the 2021 Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize, alongside fellowships from Kundiman, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. They work as the Director of the Progressive Teaching Institute and Associate Director of DEI at a school in New York City. Jeanann Verlee, the author of Prey, noted “Cut to Bloom is neither delicate nor tidy. This immense work both elucidates and complicates ethnic, generational, and gender violence, examining women who fight for their humanity against those who seek to silence―indeed, erase―them.”

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