We see more Asian women poets in pop culture than ever before. Not too long ago the art of spoken word in relation to slam poetry skyrocketed in online popularity and ever since it has been an active outlet for writers, especially writers from minority groups.
The literary world, like other creative landscapes, used to lack diversity. Fortunately, the ground now seems to be shifting. I spoke with the poets Louise Meets, Abby Orbeta, M Manese, and Kat Roxas — all members of Words Anonymous, a spoken word group in the Philippines that promotes this art form all over the country, one poem at a time. I also discussed with Megan Atencia, a US-based Filipino poet, what’s it like to be a female POC writer in the US, how much change has happened, and how much is still needed.
Behind Their Words
Tell us about your works. How do they tackle being an Asian female writer today? Is this a conscious effort, and how would you describe your individual voice on Words Anonymous?
Abby Orbeta: Love A Woman With Curves is a collab I did with Louise Meets and M Manese, and we wrote it as a form of self-love. It is definitely a conscious effort when I write about gender issues. I spent most of my life in the closet and only recently embraced my identity as a Queer Pansexual, so I want to be able to give light, or give a voice, to those who are still in the process of getting to know themselves.
M Manese: My most recent piece is titled “Impossible Women.” I wrote it after a conversation I had with my mother about infidelity and its history with the women in my family. I felt very powerful in that level of vulnerability, to be quite honest with you. It’s the most personal out of all my pieces so far.
Louise Meets: One of my favorite poems is a collab I did with Kat Roxas called Pakpak. It’s about how powerful women are feared, so men try to rename us as monsters because of their fear. Whether it’s intentional or not, my experiences as a lesbian will always make their way to the page. But there are times when I consciously decide to write about mental health and LGBTQIA+ rights. Having a platform to speak up about issues that matter means a lot because I want to empower those who are struggling.
Kat Roxas: It’s always a conscious effort to write, it’s us taking a stand and proclaiming who we are, to the world and to ourselves. Like our own little revolution. One of my pieces, called Breakage, is about mental health, specifically my battle with anxiety. Another piece is called Ina, there I toyed with the image of the Philippines and mothers, because Filipinos are raised in a culture that highlights the importance of family.
Megan Atencia: I wouldn’t say it’s conscious. I also wouldn’t say I’m unconscious to it’s presence. It’s kind of like how I cannot look at my hands and not notice that they are brown; yet, they are still just my hands. Mental health, race, identity, gender, these are just all lived experiences that make me who I am, and since I write genuinely to my own life experience, these things are inseparable.
Let’s Talk About The Scene
Thoughts on it? Do you think there’s enough recognition amongst Asian female poets? If you think there’s a serious lack, why do you think this is?
Abby Orbeta: Overall, it’s a great thing! It is time that our voices were heard and our stories were told, but to be honest, I think we could still push for more recognition for Asian Women in the scene. Yes, we are being recognized, but there are so many more voices like ours yet to be heard. I think our culture could play a part in it, since we’re used to being quiet and not really speaking our minds.
M Manese: I think it’s great! The more mediums there are to talk about our identities and struggles and triumphs, the better. Spoken word is a very accessible art form, particularly famous amongst millennials, and if this can help them better understand others, and maybe themselves, isn’t that a cause to celebrate? Although there’s more to do, and there still a lack of opportunities, nonetheless, it’s a good start!
Louise Meets: There is not enough recognition yet, but with so many strong Asian women representing us all over the world, we are slowly getting there. I think the lack of recognition has a lot to do with stereotypes. How women, especially Asian women, are thought of as quiet and timid. They have no idea.
Kat Roxas: Asian women aren’t largely recognized yet, and this might be because of a lot of things. The truth, after all, is a bitter pill to swallow, and it takes a lot to acknowledge the injustice in the world, especially when it comes to women and POC in general. Also, we live in a patriarchal world, and it’s easy for people to dismiss what women say and not take us seriously.
Megan Atencia: It’s a great movement to listen to and include the voices of people of color, and it’s helped other cultures interact healthily with each other—to become aware of appropriation, silencing, and exclusions.
These conversations are so important and help us build a better future. I think it can be dangerous to set an end point to “enough.” Rather, we should be focusing on amplifying and inspiring as many Asian women as possible to be involved, and to recognize the power of their own stories.
What’s next for us?
Appreciating poetry is often about patience: with spoken word, we don’t always get to do that. Listening to the poets’ own words, we dive a little deeper into the lives of some of our modern day heroines.
In solidarity with the rest of the most notable names in the scene, listen and hear what Franny Choi, Gabbie Jue, Gretchen Carvajal, Jenna Tenn-Yuk, and Rachel Rostad have to say. Don’t miss out on Chrysanthemum Tran’s words too. It’s important to have non-cisgender Asian women in our community and space.