By Jessica Liu
“Poetry started as a way for me to be proud of what I am,” Jasmine Kapadia said. The sixteen-year-old poet’s freeform, lowercase poetry—enriched by her hauntingly specific word choice and versatile use of language—exemplifies her pride in all aspects of her identity
Kapadia began writing poetry in second grade yet initially hesitated to write about her personal identity. As a mixed Asian American struggling to reconcile her Chinese, Indian, and American cultures, she recalled asking herself “Are my experiences worthy to write about?”
However, Kapadia’s passion for poetry blossomed in 2017 when she joined Write the World, an online community of teen writers where she could post her work and receive feedback. Through Write the World, she found a sense of release, granting herself permission to write more personally. Drawing from her conflicting feelings about her roots, Kapadia produced more works than ever about her own experiences.
Now, Kapadia views poetry as a way to explore her relationship with her culture: “It’s been both a coping mechanism so I feel less guilty about taking up space, but also a way for me to be proud of my heritage.” Through her imagery, she delves into nuanced issues that Asian Americans face—for example, in one of her recent poems, Kapadia made a nod to double eyelid tape.
Memories serve as a huge source of inspiration for Kapadia. “When I was younger, there were moments I wouldn’t know how to verbalize,” she recounted, “little moments that you don’t realize rubbed you the wrong way until you write them out.” Kapadia’s infusion of memories into her poetry makes her work deeply confidential. This intimacy is bolstered by her use of poetry as an emotional outlet. “When I don’t create, I feel bogged down by emotions,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely shaped Kapadia’s recent art. Initially, Kapadia planned for her poetry collection “tiger balm cures all but the smell trails,” published with the Malala Fund, to primarily be a reflection on her own experiences. However, in response to the escalation of the pandemic and a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, Kapadia shaped her poetry collection into a self-described “love letter to my community.” The collection draws from stories and lore passed down from her family and friends in Taiwan and China, weaving a tapestry of her heritage and deliberate language.
Despite the richness that Kapadia’s heritage contributes to her poetry, the white-dominated nature of poetry has also created barriers. Often, she faces a lack of understanding from those readers who refer to her work as “exotic” or fail to acknowledge her perspectives. However, she has found understanding spaces, like Write the World, where writers can bring “diversity and different experiences into a circle where everyone is safe to share.”
In response to the intolerance she has experienced, Kapadia emphasizes the importance of racial equity in the arts as a way to facilitate connections and empathy between people. “I don’t see why you would shut out other perspectives when you can learn so much from them,” she said. “Maybe those conversations aren’t 100% comfortable… but these are conversations that need to be had because these are experiences that people are living.” Kapadia’s commitment to honesty and vulnerability in her own poetry reflects this sentiment
Ultimately, Kapadia encourages teens of color in the arts to “create what you want to create. Don’t be pressured by anybody who wants to dictate what you can or cannot talk about in regard to your art. Art is supposed to be a manifestation of you as a person.”