From his most known poem, What Kind of Asian are You, to his hip hop poem, I Will Always Love H.E.R., Alex Dang has been spreading his passion to anyone who will listen. Check him out!
What inspired your poem I Will Always Love H.E.R.? Why did you write it?
I’ve always loved Hip-Hop and I’ve always wanted to write a poem in some capacity showing my love for the culture and the music. I realize that Hip-Hop, like any art form, has its ups and downs, the good and the bad, and I wanted to do a poem that dealt a little bit with both, but mainly spoke on how established and powerful it is as a music genre. Even though it’s relatively a young music genre, it already has solidified itself as a thing to stay.
I’ve also never been able to write a poem that was as dense as I Will Always Love H.E.R. that I was this proud of. The style and composition of this poem was really out of my comfort zone and challenged me in new ways.
How did you become interested in spoken word?
When I was 17, during the summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I was looking for open mic spots to practice hip hop songs. I am really into hip hop and initially wanted to be a hip hop artist. So I found an open mic and stayed after to watch the poetry slam and instantly fell in love with the culture and the style. I used to be an actor so the way people performed was so moving and genuine to me. It was so interesting. These people wrote their own poems and performed it with so many aspects of writing, theatre, and hip hop. I loved it so I stuck around and 3 years later here I am!
Are you in school right now?
Yes. I’m a junior at University of Oregon, double majoring in English and Chinese. English has always been my favorite subject and I’ve been learning Mandarin since kindergarten.
Who are your favorite Hip Hop artists?
The greats: Nas, Jay Z, Kanye West. Kanye influenced my personal life and self confidence. Lupe Fiasco influenced how I listen to hip hop. He changed my perspective on music in 7th grade. He opened me up to Outkast, Common, and others. Nowadays I’m really into Kendrick and Childish Gambino. I’ve been listening to Gambino since his old mixtapes. But I must say, I have an undying and un-ironic love for Drake.
What topics do you usually focus on in your spoken word?
Where I have been in relationships has always played a role in my poetry. I use poetry as a vehicle to see where I am in my life, to deal with issues that come in life. Such as memories of my family, different relationships I have had, relationships I have been through with society- like being Asian, being a male in society, being a person who isn’t middle class or upper class.
What has been your favorite experience with writing?
Definitely the entire notion of being able to pinpoint a memory or experience that has happened to me before and being able to put into words what it meant to me and then further elevate it to a new level of understanding and beauty.
I remember when writing What Kind Of Asian Are You? I was incredibly scared to perform it. I remember thinking, this is a risky poem, this is a poem that deals with a lot of heavy topics and I wonder if I do those topics justice, or if I’m a good enough writer to really articulate that experience of my life down into a poem.
What topic would you like to write your next poem on?
I’m constantly writing newer and newer things. I want to be able to write about my life in the purest, honest and most genuine ways. A lot of the time a poem with that much truth, for me, will scare me to death. It’s trying to find a balance of being real and truthful and still telling a good story for everyone to hear.
Who has inspired you?
Mr. Gonzales. He was my high school English teacher. He shaped how I look at the world. He taught me a lot about performance. He showed me what a good teacher was capable of. And also the importance of being able to communicate very clearly and perceptively. He has inspired me to be an English high school teacher as well. Along with my mother, who is also a school teacher.
What motivates you?
My strong belief is that poetry makes everyone’s voice have equal footing. Everyone’s voice is valued and respected. I want more people to know more about this art form and know that anyone can do it- be a good storyteller. I want to put out good work so other people can do the same.
How do you feel about performing?
You never get better at not being less nervous, you only get better at hiding it. But I’ve always been a public speaker. In high school, I did speech and debate heavily for 2 years. I’ve done a lot of hip hop performances and a lot of theater performances, so I’m not shy. I’m accustomed to the stage. It’s important to me. I love the adrenaline and shaky feeling- I look forward to it. I always want to do it all over again.
What are your goals 5 years from now?
I should have my degree. Hopefully. In regards to poetry, I would have like to go to nationals five more times. Also, I’d like to be a Portland representative for the Individual World Poetry Slam competition. I want to be a veteran of this form of art. I want to be seen as an equal to the poets I look up to right now.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
Grind. Just keep on working and fighting the good fight. It’s a thankless kind of work and when it feels like there’s too much space between yourself and your goal remember why you love this. Remember why you’re doing this.
There you have it, Alex Dang! Don’t miss out on his future performances if you’re in his area or vice versa. He will be well known in the spoken word industry. Check out his blog and look him up on Facebook. He also has an e-book available through Where Are You Press, a small publishing house founded by his girlfriend and writer, Clementine von Radics.