Vanessa Huang is a poet, cultural worker, and activist whose practice draws on teachings from the prison abolition, migrant justice, gender liberation, transformative justice, disability justice, and reproductive justice movements. Vanessa’s poetry manuscript quiet of chorus was a finalist for Poets & Writers’ 2010 California Writers Exchange Award. A Macondo and Kundiman fellow, Vanessa lives in Oakland, California and consults with social justice organizations. http://vanessahuang.com
Who? name, age, what you identify as (or not)
Vanessa Huang, 27, queer, born and raised in the Bay Area to Chinese immigrants from Taipei, middle class, education privilege, disabled.
You self-identify as a poet, writer, and community organizer. Can you tell us a bit about the intersectionality of these professions?
My practice finds home in the dialogue amongst the offerings and work possible in each of these and other mediums. Poetry has a precious place, a specific contribution to this call and response. Poet and activist Alexis Pauline Gumbs makes this offering in the July/August 2010 issue of Left Turn magazine:
We don’t know how to say it: the shapes our hands make in the world we deserve, the names we call each other past gender and domination, the feeling of how free we could be and the ways we will recognize the signposts and markers for how to get there. The meaning of life that we are building with our breathing is so radically different from the structural oppression we live under, we couldn’t describe it if we wanted to. And we want to.
Revolutionary poetics is about the shape of that desire, the queer untimely affirmation that another world is not possible, but is here waiting for us to recognize its presence and transform ourselves accordingly. Anticapitalist Jamaican thinker Sylvia Winter teaches that the poetic is the magic process of describing relationships between people and an environment that capitalism, as a relationship and as a language, make impossible.
We don’t have a grammar to describe how full gender sovereignty walks or how life free from violence, punishment, and ownership tastes. But we know. And our chance to live in that world, our best hope of sharing that world with the future, depends on our ability to imagine it, to say it, to mean it, to invoke it, to drum it up in a rhythm our ancestors and our dreams can recognize and rally behind.
I hope my love and labor as a poet feeds resilience and courage from the margins in the ways we need to spark and sustain the work of transformation: to enliven our spirits, make possible new ways of feeling, understanding, and building and transforming relationships with each other and our “work.” And I trust in our work as organizers to create more and more spaciousness in how we live, love, and work so we may each and all celebrate and inhabit our always courage beauty, and create and re-create what it is to be free.
How have your queer and/or Asian American identities shaped your writing?
My inherited legacy through generational migration, and the sensibility of our queer and transgender movement elders, has gifted me with the responsibility to be a steward of our senses, always returning to what we’ve held and nurtured in silence, what is now safe to sound.
You mention in another interview that your “practice of poetry is called by the quiet bodyprayer, unsounded and unpracticed words–the seemingly missing.” Can you explain? Does this relate to the voice of the minority or is it a spiritual reference?
Poetry requires deep listening with our beloved present: the conditions we live in, and the yearnings that encourage us to continue creating, returning to breath. The writing of poetry is a spiritual practice — a practice of inviting that “for which no pronunciation exists” (Myung Mi Kim), this place where “things patiently unfurl, open up and trust us with their secrets” (Yahia Lababidi) –; a practice of deep, utter necessity “living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding”: “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?… Because in this way alone can we survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth” (Audre Lorde).
The (incredible) poem on the main page of your http://vanessahuang.com is about home. Can you share some thoughts with us about your idea of home in the context of queer and Asian identities?
“Home” is complicated for so many of us in diaspora, and for our loved ones and comrades. It’s something we yearn for and mourn the loss of, stolen from so many, from First Nations to dear ones taken by rising state terror for lockup to Palestine, and through the workings of capitalism then and now, near and far. “Home” is visceral when we create and experience it, something we create alongside our ancestors and loved ones today create amidst conditions and systems rooted in exploitation and domination, something we reclaim.
Can you share a coming out story with us?
The last couple years have been a bit of a coming out with my work and practice as a queer, disabled poet, after a phase of time primarily dedicated to political practice through the medium of organizing and activism. It’s been a journey reclaiming voice through the ruptures of language and migration, shame and silence, of reclaiming power in community, in movement, with deep humility. I invite Asian, Gay, & Proud readers to join my journey here, and support as you’re moved and able to: http://kck.st/tm3dHE
What’s the next step? In your opinion, what can we all do to move in the right direction?
Get to know our neighbors. Invite a practice of care for each and all, and nurture a culture within and around the families and groups we create that encourages transformation towards relationships rooted in love and resilience.
On a related note, do you have any advice you can give to other Asian, Gay & Proud readers.
Trust your own wisdoms. Listen to what arises. Practice compassion and courage, together.
Visit Vanessa’s website at: www.vanessahuang.com
Support her kickstarter here: http://kck.st/tm3dHE