September 20th, 2009

  • pylduck

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai at the Equilibrium Spoken Word series

I wanted to post a quick note about seeing Kelly Tsai perform live at the Equilibrium Spoken Word series here in the Twin Cities last night. She was the final performer for the evening in this always-amazing series hosted by Bao Phi, following a local poet Brittany Delaney (who performed a wonderful piece about Caster Semenya, the South African athlete that the media has fallen over itself to declare as woman or not-woman) and Washington DC-based Poem-Cees (the dynamic duo of hip hop spoken word art!).

What I was surprised by was how funny Tsai's work is. In introducing each poem, she would already have the audience in peals of laughter, and as she launched into her poems, she brilliantly balanced the expected righteous anger of spoken word arts about activist issues with wry observations and self-deprecation. For example, she shared a poem about the presidential campaign discourse about race and appealing to a litany of demographic groups by juxtaposing racial categories used (and avoided) by particular candidates with groups that she would fit in such as "Asian women under five-feet-two" or "lovers of Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby." She also took apart the phrase, "black, white, whatever," used during the campaign as a way of suggesting that non-white peoples don't need to be campaigned to directly or differently because, after all, the President is supposed to represent EVERYONE and therefore does by virtue of not caring about difference. Her repetition of that smarmy phrase was funny in itself, but as she expanded on the "whatever" and reclaimed the differences that were constantly paved over by both Republicans and Democrats in this appeal to a post-racial world, she made everyone laugh with reminders of the ludicrous statements about any-colored people--whether black, white, blue, purple, or whatever--and reasserted the importance of brown, red, and yellow as actually politically-significant colors and groups.

Tsai was mentioned in an earlier post in the community, and you can find out more about her work on her website at
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