Fong Tran at the John Natsoulas Gallery

On Thursday, October 5th, I attended the Poetry Night Reading Series at the John Natsoulas Gallery, in which Fong Tran was the featured poet. I had previously seen him perform at another event and had already known that I loved his poetry, so when I saw that he was performing at the John Natsoulas Gallery, I jumped at the chance to see him once again. Especially seeing as it would be in such a small, intimate setting (the John Natsoulas gallery seats about 50-60 people, which is small compared to the thousand-person venue that Tran had previously performed at), I was excited to see how his spoken word poetry would be in a smaller setting. I am pleased to say that the performance was amazing, and that I would highly recommend anyone to his poetry readings.

Image source: YouTube

Tran’s poetry, which mainly focuses on social justice, the perspective of minorities, and the corruption of various institutions, is only made more powerful by his own background. According to his bio, he was raised by a Vietnamese mother escaping the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and grew up in a poor neighborhood, relying on section 8 housing and food stamps throughout his childhood. Once in college, he turned to spoken word poetry, an outlet through which he would broadcast the social injustice of our society today.

Spoken word poetry is distinct from other forms of poetry in that it is very much made to be performed onstage. It is almost like rap, really, when you listen to it, because it plays on the poet’s intonation as well as their word play, rhyme, rhythm, etc. Spoken word poetry (also known as “slam poetry”) is powerful because you can make your poem sound as loud as a protest, or even as quiet as a whisper.

Image source: Poetry in Davis

Tran’s poems kept on the side of the former. Mainly being about how Western ideals have infected different areas of our society (seen in his “Problem with What’s Taught in Schools,” which focuses on the Euro-centric view of history; or in “White Hipsters,” which talks about the culture-appropriation of some whites), Tran’s poetry was a protest of the entire system. This was exhibited through his words and his loud voice. It was extremely moving, especially being able to see the world through his eyes and how he, as a minority, has been affected by various social injustices.

The poem that stood out to me the most, though, was a poem which he had only read one other time, because of how intimate and personal it was. In the poem, he first spoke about how, in lacking a father, he had always looked up to superheroes and, in turn, actually had made himself out to be a superhero himself. Later in his life, he says in his poem, he figures out that he is not a superhero, but fallible and that he is someone with very dark places. His poem explains this by telling the audience that one day, his girlfriend showed him his OKCupid account, displaying all of the girls that he had been talking to and sleeping with. The poem, turning darker and more honest, depicted how he had fallen, as a supposed superhero, and realized how much he wasn’t a superhero. It was a truly remarkable poem, depicting the faults of Tran that we can all relate to, at least in some way. At least to me, it reminded me that we are all a little dark, no matter how great we think we are.

Image source: UC Davis Alumni

The reading ended with a poetic depiction of living with his Vietnamese mother, which was yet another moving poem in the series. It was a nice poem to end with; it captured the rest of the poems’ natures by offering a detailed view of his life while mixing it with social injustices that he and his family have had to face.

I highly recommend Fong Tran and encourage anyone who is able to go out and see him perform! You can check out some of his poetry and upcoming events on his website or follow him on Facebook.

Cover image source: Poetry in Davis