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Spotlight on Banteay Srei

2018 Creators' Fund Recipient

Poetry is a vehicle for self-empowerment. Banteay Srei, supported by Blue Heart, has incorporated this tool into its prevention education programs with young Asian American women in Oakland.


Participants in the Poetry Jam Project. Photo: Banteay Srei

"We call it the Poetry Jam Project, and it has been a remarkable journey for each young woman in search of her own voice.

"Our artist, Monica Sok, envisioned a curriculum that included poetry by women of color such as: Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Aracelis Girmay, Fatimah Asghar, Emily Jungmin Yoon, Natalie Diaz, Janice Lobo Sapigao, Yesenia Montilla, Eve L. Ewing, and Analicia Sotelo. These women poets celebrate womanhood while challenging what it means within the context of inherited history, racism, misogyny, and oppression. The poems our young women engaged with also emphasized themes of sisterhood, diaspora, reclamation, and self-love––all values of Banteay Srei. Each session began with an affirmation: “You are enough” to which each participant responded with, “Thank you. I know.” This affirmation grounded our young women in relationship to themselves and to each other, as they began to explore their narratives.


"Participants wrote poems, while discovering a variety of poetic forms and ways of engaging with poetry to empower one’s narrative. A collective poem they wrote was “Microaggression Bingo” after Fatimah Asghar, which dealt with the racism and misogyny they experienced as Asian American women growing up in Oakland. It was a powerful piece that cultivated sisterhood.


Participants write and share poetry as a tool for healing and resistance. Photo: Banteay Srei

"Performance and public speaking were also critical to the curriculum, as poetry has its roots in oral traditions. The girls grew more confident in their ability to speak publicly in front of an audience––first at a “Living Archives” event at Oakland Public Library in the spring, and again this summer at Nyum Bai, a Cambodian restaurant in the neighborhood. In addition to the curriculum, Monica also built a living poetry library for Banteay Srei and a coursework packet full of writing prompts and readings.


"This poetry curriculum was furthermore enriched by field trips to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco where participants wrote ekphrastic poems after pieces of art that resonated with them. The girls also visited Stanford University twice––first for a Listen to the Silence conference organized by Asian American student and community organizations, and second, for Monica’s poetry reading alongside the writer Gothataone Moeng. Moreover, our young women were exposed to other local artists in Oakland, like Isa Borgeman, who facilitated a performance workshop as well as Laura Jew, a poet and reiki practitioner whose workshop focused on self-care and healing.


At the end of Poetry Jam, participants created a collective chapbook and took part in a celebration reading open to the Southeast Asian community."

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