Discovering the Relevance of Words
Living just over the bridge from Portland, Oregon, I’ve had the esteemed pleasure of watching Alex Dang at the Portland Poetry Slam over the last couple of years, and it is quite the treat. There’s an ease to which he carries himself that makes him incredibly approachable, but when he steps on stage, the emotion, the conviction, and perfectly well-phrased pieces flow straight from his soul.
Much like going to see a band in concert before ever hearing them on CD, seeing a performance poet on stage, and then grabbing a copy of their chapbook can sometimes take some of the raw energy out of the songs, or poems. Fortunately, this is not the case for Alex Dang’s new chapbook, You Can Do Better (Where Are You Press). Twice now he’s been selected to represent Portland at the National Poetry Slam, and it’s not just his charisma – which isn’t lacking in the least – but rather his way of connecting with everyone who reads his words. For example, you don’t have to be Asian to understand his breakthrough piece, “What Kind of Asian Are You?”. You merely have to have experienced being an outcast at some point in your life, or a minority, or, simply put, a person.
His ability to wrap you around his finger with imagery at such a young age bodes well for his literary future. In his poem “And This is How,” he says of his father:
He’s always reminded me of a Zippo lighter
and lately I’ve been taking my toothpick body
swimming in pools of gasoline.
These are lines that people can hold onto, understand, and take on as their own.
In his final piece in the book, he writes:
If I came back
in another life,
I would choose to
in your kitchen:
The way you
would hold me,
the way you
would leave lipstick
the way we
would spend the
He says the words we want to say, but don’t always know how to put them together. For that, we thank him.
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