Project As[I]Am Presents: A Recap of Jess X. Chen & Princess Chan’s NYC Poetry Feature

Jess X. Chen performing her poetry. Photo credit to Eden.

Jess X. Chen performs “Red” in front of a scarlet projection of a nighttime Tiananmen Square. Photo credit to Eden.

I had been back in the city for a little over a month after being shuffled around the country for five years and was still feeling pretty burned out. After a couple of months of liking each others’ statuses and sharing articles with each other; a colleague and I bonded over our love for cats, feminism, social justice as well as our shared experiences as Asian American women.  Since then, we had gotten into the habit of forwarding events to each other.  One particular day, I received a notification from her about one of these said events.

The title read: “PROJECT AS[I]AM PRESENTS: Jess X Chen & Princess Chan – Double Poetry Feature in NYC.”

I wasn’t quite sure if I was feeling productive enough to make the trek out to the city from Queens , but at least it wasn’t Brooklyn.  Not to mention that despite being a pretty extroverted person, I really didn’t feel all too excited about experiencing another night of the unique brand of awkward that comes from going to an event alone in a room full of people that all probably know each other. Even so a few days later, I took a closer look at the event and its description:

“PROJECT AS[I]AM PRESENTS a multi-disciplinary night of poetry and shadow theater by two emerging queer Asian American women poets.”

Princess Chan performing as Jess X. Chen looks on. Photo credit to Eden.

Amidst a flurry of projected stars, Princess Chan performs as Jess X. Chen looks on. Photo credit to Eden.

How often does one see the words: “multi-disciplinary”, “poetry”, “shadow theater”, “queer”, “Asian-American”, “women” and “poets” in the same sentence?  I  instantly changed my “maybe” status to “going.”

Although I was hesitant at first,  I’m really glad that I got a chance to see such brilliant artists at work and  even more glad that Project As[I]Am is creating a space for more people like Jess and Princess to showcase their work with the world.  I know that this was As[I]Am’s first event, but I hope I won’t have to wait too long till their next.

The event kicked off with an introduction of Project As[I]Am by editors Kyla and Jordan, followed by a moment of silence for Ferguson.  A room full of mostly PoC sharing a moment of silence in solidarity? Chilling, in all the right ways.

To follow up, poet Paul Tran ‘led on the show’ with a piece by Audre Lorde and heartfelt introductions of Jess and Princess.  A perfect way to start off a night of poetry: solidarity, Audre Lorde, good company and good vibes.

Paul Tran opening the night. Photo credit to Eden.

Paul Tran opens the night, his silhouette upon a stark, red striped background. Photo credit to Eden.

Someone once told me that we all have healers in our communities.  The ones who forge pain into armor, channel screams into battle cries, and turn floods of tears into the open sea.  Jess X. Chen and Princess Chan are two of said healers, using poetry and art to help mend the wounds in our communities.  Their voices sharing stories of the trauma and marginalization many of us face in our communities—voices and stories we rarely have a chance to hear.

In the darkness, there was silence throughout as we waited anxiously for the first poem.  It was then, that we heard a slightly nervous but firm and captivating voice speak.  With the backdrop of her shadow projection art magic set, Jess began performing her first (and one of my personal favorites from the night) poem, “Red.”  Perhaps it was the history of my own peoples’ struggles and their diaspora or the powerful nature of the poem itself, but the accounts of Tiananmen Square described in “Red” struck a chord.  My attention, and the audience’s, was hers.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember Princess’ poems from the event as vividly—but not for the reasons you may think.  I remember the quiet—save some “mmm”s and snaps—as her voice carried throughout the room.  I remember the expressive displays of pain, sorrow, and strength clearly shown on Princess’ face as she spoke.  I remember the heaviness of the air in the room as the weight of the words began to pile on my shoulders.  I remember the cathartic nature of her poetry; as if with each passing poem, I was taking a deep breath.  I also remember feeling taken aback as I listened and hung onto each word, teary eyed and emotional.  Something about the way Princess’ poems resonated in me, made it easier to remember emotions and reflect on how I felt rather than recall the exact words spoken.

What made the event even more enjoyable was that all that “deep stuff” was balanced out with plenty of nervous laughter, bad (read: amazing) puns, and awkwardness (the good kind).  There was less of a speaker/audience divide and honestly, it felt like a community sitting by a campfire sharing experiences.  I think that this was part of the reason why I felt as if I had taken away more from the event than other poetry gatherings I’ve attended.  The overall vibe was much more welcoming and intimate; the energy somewhat raw.

Jas is a queer Korean-American activist currently navigating a year off from undergraduate studies. She is driven by her passions for social justice, travel, languages, food, good tea, and cats.

All photos courtesy of Eden. You may see more photos from our event on our Facebook album. Eden’s art photography can be found at their website.

Performer Bios:

pmchanPRINCESS MOON CHAN is a Cambodian American poet, teaching artist, and community organizer based in Boston. With honor, she has graced the final stages of the 2011 Brave New Voices as well as the 2012 and 2013 Louder Than A Bomb Massachusetts. In 2014, Princess coached the winning team of the entire Louder Than A Bomb Massachusetts competition and received the Charmaine Santiago Galdon Award for her tireless community building. She is currently the Program Director of the non-profit youth organization FreeVerse!, the SlamMaster of the Mill City Slam, the proud female voice of the Untitled Open Mic, and one of the founding mothers of ROOT, a radical Asian-American women’s arts circle. Howl Magazine has deemed Princess as one of Lowell’s “Kick-Ass Women You Should Know.”

JESS X. CHEN is a Chinese American poet, illustrator and film maker, and the author of chapbook, From the Earthworm To The Night. She holds a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and her work has been exhibited and received awards nationally. By exposing lands, people, and animals that have been colonized and cast as “without voice” to the forefront of language and cinema, Jess’ work draws a line between humanity’s imperialistic attitude of exploiting those of a different race, gender, or species — to our civilizations’ end and our Earth’s ecological collapse.  Distilling an intimate hope from the apocalyptic, she aspires to unbury the voices before her and facilitate the intersection of diverse art forms to conceive a new language toward environmental, feminist, and racial justice. Together we may reclaim territories beyond the boundaries of possibility and address trauma with grace.

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