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Appalachian Graduate Promotes Art of Poetry

Poetry is like music. There’s enough variety that almost everyone can find something to like, says Lisa Kwong, one of Boone’s many poetry ambassadors.

Kwong, formerly of Radford, Va., is a December 2004 graduate of Appalachian State University’s Department of English. She writes poetry, participates in poetry readings, works to generate interest in poetry events in the area, and keeps people aware of the importance of poetry in our lives.

Although she started writing poetry in the eighth grade, Kwong developed her passion while she was in college. She attributes part of that passion to the inspiration she has received from classmates, fellow poets and her teachers, including Lynn Doyle, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Al Young, Gerald Barrax and Jane Hirshfield.

” I really found poetry when I took my first formal creative writing class,” she said. “I had never been so excited about a class before. Poetry allows me to say things I normally wouldn’t say in real conversation, and shatters the quiet girl image that I have long been associated with in my life. I love constantly surprising people. They never know quite what to expect when I take the stage.”

Kwong read her work, along with fellow Appalachian alumni poets Monica Sanders and Jaclyn Shambaugh, during a presentation that was part of the university’s Diversity Celebration. She was a founding member of Lyric, a freestyle rap and spoken word poetry club. She also performed her work for the university’s production of “Pieces of She.”

She also participated in the 23rd annual Key West Literary Seminar in January and the annual Rivers-Coffey Creative Writing Seminar. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Appalachian Anthology (High Country Student Publishers, 2005), the chapbook “PLAY” (Four Letter Words Press, 2005), the chapbook “Boxcar” (High Country Student Publishers, 2003 and 2004) and Ishmael Reed’s Konch Magazine (www.ishmaelreedpub.com, 2004).

“Reading poetry is almost like acting,” Kwong said. “Every poem has its own voice that you try to really listen to.”

Through Kwong’s efforts, Boone Mayor Velma Burnley signed a proclamation recognizing this April as the 10th annual National Poetry Month in Boone. Copies of the proclamation are on display at the Watauga County Public Library and Black Bear Books in Boone, and Appalachian’s Department of English.

Kwong hopes that events such as National Poetry Month, which has been observed each April since 1996, poetry readings held as part of the university’s Visiting Writers Series, as well as readings sponsored by various organizations on campus and in town, and the availability of poetry either in print or on the Internet, will help others discover the joy of reading poetry. Through the support of the state’s current poet laureate, Kathryn Stripling Byer, the North Carolina Arts Council has been posting a poem each day written by a North Carolina poet at its website http://www.ncarts.org. Other websites with daily poem postings are www.poems.com, www.versedaily.org and www.writersalmanac.publicradio.org.

“I would like for people to be exposed to poetry more often,” Kwong said. “I didn’t read a lot of poetry until two or three years ago, and that was because I didn’t know how to read it. Now a day doesn’t go by without me reading at least one poem, if not several”

She urges others to read poems-perhaps starting with “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop or “Birches” by Robert Frost, which Kwong describes as a poem almost anyone would understand and enjoy.

“It’s not an easy art form-no art is-but you have to start somewhere,” she said. “By easing into it, you’ll discover what you like.”

In the future, Kwong hopes to write a collection of poems inspired by her family’s experiences and write a memoir of their journey from China to the United States, which includes her father swimming from Taisan, Canton, China to Hong Kong in 1973, to the success of the family’s 26-year-old restaurant business in Radford, Va.

Kwong also hopes to attend graduate school and major in creative writing. In the meantime, she is working to polish her skills. “I constantly try to push myself to try new things whether that’s taking on a voice which is totally unlike my own, writing in a new form, or dealing with subject matter that is emotionally difficult, often personal in nature,” she said. “A writer has to have is persistence,” she said. “Whatever obstacles are in my way, I have to make sure I have time to read and write everyday.”

(The following poem by Kwong represents the celebratory nature of National Poetry Month)

Feeding the Poet

Peaches clean my face,

its color changed to red glow.

I rip the white script.

Melted onion hips

aside, I have become one

fine, lovely lady.

Healing chocolate

summons the sensuous frog

inside to emerge.

Ice-kissed, mud fears gone,

this beautiful lady life

dances with her pen.

~Lisa Kwong

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