JESS&PAULPoster credit: Jess X. Chen

Hey hey! This April's open mic came out with a lil Pacific Northwest twist, with Iris and I MC'ing the event, and my longtime friend Jess X Chen and my newtime friend Paul Tran featuring their poetry, shadow theater, and film.

Ricky Going InPhoto credit: Ye Eun Jeong

Open mic participants came through with honesty and courage, like Ricky (above) performing spoken word on gambling addiction and body positivity, and Tomas sharing his poetry for the first time. There was also an interesting moment when someone did a stand-up routine that turned out kinda racist. Though the audience remained disapprovingly silent for his bit, everyone clapped for the guts it takes for someone to go up on stage and tell jokes, and that person stayed for the remainder of the night. That was one of the realest moments I've experienced at EMW: witnessing a community hold one of its own accountable for making mistakes in a way that wasn't about punishment and telling someone to GTFO, but about believing that people can do better.*

Vulnerability and accountability. These themes resonated with me as Jess and Paul turned off the house lights and immersed the audience in their intimate, visually haunting set, sharing their poetry on the effects of war/trauma/colonization on the body/mind/earth. How are our abuse of the land to the abuse of a body to the abuse of a nation's people all interrelated? How do we come to die? Who kills us? How do we come to survive? And what does survival look like?

Jess and Paul's set opened with a screening of #1 BEAUTY NAIL SALON.

Whether or not Jess and Paul intended for that train of thought to go in that direction, that was what was going on in my headspace that night. Just as extraordinary as it was to witness Jess and Paul's immense talent and intellect, it was also wonderful to see the audience breathe and sigh in understanding, bearing a kind of collective testimony to the histories that often remain silenced.

So what did survival look like that night? I saw a community come together to receive difficult truths with grace. I saw a community that, even despite struggle, could laugh and celebrate.

Jess ChenPhoto credit: Ye Eun Jeong

Paul TranPhoto credit: Ye Eun Jeong

Jess Chen & Paul TranPhoto credit: Ye Eun Jeong

Next month, Franny Choi will be featuring with her new book of poetry, Floating Brilliant Gone, whose cover art is done by Jess. Come by 934 Mass Ave on Friday, May 9th! * For further reading, I recommend Ngoc Loan Tran's article, Calling IN: A Less Disposal Way of Holding Each Other Accountable on Black Girl Dangerous.