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Youth poet Jessica Kim is in for a revolution

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

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
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.