Humanistic Studies

May 2022

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Theresa-Xuan Bui, 2022 Ginsberg Prize for Poetry Winner

Judge Unique Robinson had this to say about Theresa-Xuan's work:

“How will I establish space for my loved ones, my sisters, the liminal, the radical,
exquisite, unseen, and all the more? To answer, I write.”

Theresa-Xuan’s work rings of a truth telling sensibility of the complications of ownership,
inclusion, and exclusion of the English language, and subsequently, the American
Dream itself - a dream which has been broadcasted worldwide, and yet, readily falls
short of its promise for many BIPOC families, native born and immigrant. Theresa-Xuan
interrogates the weight of this language on their generation, and past generations, who
bought into the “pearly promises of America”. In each poem, we are met with moments
where language is simultaneously utilized, yet cracked open.

In the first, we bear witness to complicated conversations across a dinner table, and the
underlying conflict of expectations of success, as the child of immigrant parents: “How:
silence is a table long / from breast to fork to / silver spoon fed b**** please / why don’t
you do something, someone, yourself / successful?”. The universality in this poem
speaks volumes to populations who wrestle with the precariousness of upward mobility.

In “Let’s play”, her desire for “deconstructing language to its most basic form” is
highlighted, twisting SURVIVAL into a “game” itself. The poet intentionally misspells the
“instructions” of the game, to engage the reader in the illusory aspects of navigating
one’s existence from beginning to end (“bgieiennng, mdilde / End”). It is an
unintentionally playful piece, asking the reader to solve a puzzle that is never fully
solved. It is innovative in its attempt to dismantle layers of systemic racism and classism,
and their effects on the everyday lives of people who moved to America, hoping to do
more than simply survive, with language often being a key barrier in advancement.
Theresa-Xuan hopes “to openly process and piece together a future we (past, present,
future) can be proud of”, and these poems certainly carry the legacy of the resilience of
their ancestral past, and the possibility of future, beyond the confines of today.

See more of Theresa-Xuan's work at and follow them on instagram at @theresa.xuan.bui

A special thank you to our judges this year: Unique Robinson and Moses Jeune '20, Ginsberg Prize winner 2020 


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