SHORE: Minneapolis ESSAY by Bao Phi

It’s not too late to believe in me.”  - Jay Bad Heart Bull

Here, among predominantly Native American artists, the word “unsettling” takes on the meaning of a political act.

At The Loft Literary Center, housed in Open Book in Minneapolis, Emily Johnson has gathered poets and writers from as far away as Thunder Bay and as close as Phillips.  They are here for SHORE: STORY, the literary arts segment of her dynamic multidisciplinary project.  There are sons and grandmothers and everyone in-between, reading, and we in the audience are consuming.  Read aloud often enough and you know the audience is a living part of the craft.  While the majority of the poets are Indigenous, there are also other races speaking their hearts and truths.  Everyone’s shoreline is different.  Someone says “sure, why not?” and that attitude strikes me as powerful.  The writers address racial conflicts, talk to their community like a lover, relate a conversation with their child on a bike ride, allude to teaching creative writing to businessmen. 

I love poetry and community, so this is the place to be.  A shore can be a kind of refuge.  Home, in many ways.  So I think about home, and homeland.  And what does that mean as a Vietnamese refugee in a space filled with mostly Native American poets.  As an Asian American, I am racialized as an alien, forever a foreigner.  I’ll never be from here.  Native Americans had their land taken from them, and we’re all living on it – here is stolen from them.  I don’t have an answer.  I can just name it as honestly as possible. 

The places we are forced from, the places forced upon us.  The poems we sing too late but that we desperately need, still.

We listen to these wordsmiths, lit by a gentle halo of a spotlight.  Stories take shape from breath, roll in, wear down, roll back.  I wonder if the poets are the shore or the tide.  Or both at once.  All I know is that none of us are neutral, none of us are still.

More than anything, what I take away is the sense of community, of shared space, that these writers conjure.  And like the title of Emily’s piece, home is not static.  It ebbs and flows.  Advances and recedes.  That’s the beauty of it.  It’s not about a house or a static idea.  Home is a movement.