The Poetry Center Book Award Reading, co-sponsored this year by the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network, features award winner Bao Phi, from Minneapolis, selected for his book Thousand Star Hotel (Coffee House Press, 2017), reading and in conversation with the award judge, Sarah Menefee. The Poetry Center Book Award has been presented annually since 1980 by The Poetry Center to a single outstanding book of poetry published in the previous year. The award carries a cash prize and an invitation to read, along with the award judge, at The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University. Free and open to the public, this event is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Judge's Statement: for Thousand Star Hotel, by Bao Phi
From the first poem in Bao Phi's Thousand Star Hotel I was taken into a real world, particular to the poet but a shared world, in the best way, written with a sure and generous ear. A confidence by one retail worker to another in the first poem of this fine collection: a scene certainly familiar to me, and I know right off that the ways of the world and the heart are being masterfully revealed. The particulars of life, which constitute both poetry and the shared experience called 'history,' are here with their beautiful and brutal truths. In this case the war that was waged against the Vietnamese people, something that reverberates forever here, as part of this patched-together and unequal society of all of us from everywhere, where the truths told by father to son and father to daughter are freighted with love, ultimate innocence and experience. All these things weave through these poems, which are a pleasure and an adventure to read, best instances of the visionary real. At a time when there is so much dimensionless fantasy throughout this amnesiac culture, how refreshing to be told the real story! — revelation and recognition. “That a raindrop can weep inside of itself so hard it drowns and, looking at it, you would never know.” —Sarah Menefee
Bao Phi is a multiple-time Minnesota Grand Slam poetry champ and National Poetry Slam finalist, and the author of two collections of poetry, Thousand Star Hotel and Sông I Sing, both from Coffee House Press, and both of which are taught in classrooms across the country. He is also author of A Different Pond, a picture book which received a Caldecott honor, an Ezra Jack Keats new author honor, the Charlotte Zolotow award for excellence in children’s book writing, and six starred reviews, and He was Minnesota Monthly’s Author of the Year 2017 and City Pages’ Best Author 2018. He continues to tour as a featured guest speaker and artist across the country. He is the program director of events and awards at the Loft Literary Center, in Minneapolis. Photo: Anna Min.
San Francisco poet Sarah Menefee, originally from Reno, Nevada, is a homeless and poor people’s rights activist, a founding member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, the Revolutionary Poets Brigade, and ‘First they came for the homeless.’ Her poetry collections include I’m Not Thousandfurs, The Blood About the Heart, Human Star, In Your Fish Helmet, and Stella Umana (Italian & English), along with numerous chapbooks. She is a painter, a photographer and journalist for The People’s Tribune, with her articles and her poetry published widely in numerous political and literary journals and anthologies. She has worked in hospitals, bars, casinos, offices, day care centers and in many retail jobs, including bookstores. She is currently semi-retired, and works part-time as an artist’s model.