Poems from the International Poetry Exchange Program's Visit to Japan!

This November, DreamYard’s International Poetry Exchange Program visited Japan! 42 young poets from the Bronx, Japan, Korea and the Philippines bonded, explored various cultural and historical landmarks, and shared their poetry.


“Recipe for International Poetry Exchange”

Gather 40 young poets from around the world. Watch

languages & hearts & stories & identities collide, shine.

Hear their traveling of mother tongues  

Japanese, Tagalog, Korean, Spanish, English, Soninke

& on. How they all sound like song & invocation.

See them slurp noodles, sample sushi, drink broth from deep bowls.

Watch them swallow the sea, ache from the lists & lists of names

carved into stone at the Peace Memorial. Weep with them

when they share sorrows, see the shards of war. Ourselves.

Bow your head in prayer at Asakusa & the Meiji Shrine.

Stand beside shisas that ward off evils. Learn traditions

the Eisa dance & bingata at Shuri High School. The art

of dyeing, the patience of weaving. Watch cultures inter-

twine & shift alive. Witness shared poetry of longing

& immigration & song & gods & cranes & new worlds.

Revel in their high school after party of Cupid Shuffle,

Gangnam Style & K Pop ballads. They community so hard.

Ask them what they love & they will yell out:

myself & non-crease sneakers & carbs & drawing

& the moon, moon, & anime & R & B, books & sleep.

Ask them what they don’t love & they will call out:

war & stereotypes & sweating & mosquitos

the president (of the US & the Philippines both)

& they will hold their hands out to each other in comfort.

& they will say homework & diarrhea & they will howl in laughter.

Because they are all teenage-ish & grown & young at the same time.

Ask them their names & they will shout them

while shaking their whole bodies: Alondra & Hawa

& Aicha & Fukumura & Ace & Angelica & Lian

& Sungmin & Hyeongseok - their names like prayers

rising into the setting Okinawan sun.

An untangling of letters & histories & place.

Say landscape & watch the streets unravel

& all the salt in the sea wash to shore. This

is how we are one. The only thing that stands

between us is the ocean, Fatou says & you know

she is right. & when Jason says, There are no borders.

there’s only our humanity, you all say yes, yes, yes!

Have them hold hands & conjure words

like: promise, hope, inspiration, community, love.

Say them again & louder & echo what they need

& want in this world. Watch them cry heavy tears

when they leave, lean deep out of bus windows. Carry on

& on. See how they hold. Watch their connections root down.

See their community rise up.


Poetry Prompts from IPEP 2018

  • Immigration/Culture

  • Family Traditions

  • Recipe or Spell Poems: Love Spell, Spell for a Perfect Saturday Night

  • Introduction/Bio Poems

  • Crushes/Obsessions: People, Places or Things You LOVE!

“The People Left Behind”

Ban MIka

At the season when the setting sun is a beautiful, flaming red

a cool breeze comes to say

it is time to speak with the ancestors

Those from the land of the rising sun offer rice cakes

Those from the land of warriors light candles

Those from the land of freedom don costumes

Those from the land of the miracle bow low

Everyone in their own way

pays their respects to the ancestors

prays for the happiness of the ancestors


burns into their hearts

the flame their ancestors lit


Tome Maiko

Looking at the morning sun I pray

"Grandma, I'm off now, see you later!"

Happy things or harsh ones, when I look at the sun I am comforted

Grandma's tender smile is always there

Before she died she said

"I'll be the sun and watch over you"

Every so often I feel like she's in the car

I bet she'll be angry if we don't let her stay

When something joyful happens she blesses us.

If I need to speak to her, I speak to her by praying

That was Grandma's teaching

And so that is our custom

“You love me not.”

Lian De Leon

No one said that I could learn the taste of pain

before falling in love with you

Your scent faded from my sweaters

before I could even tuck them away

Nothing ever stayed for me

Your fingerprints on my soul

has dried up faster than my pressed roses

With thorns that could cut through my thick skin;

Why can’t it cut through yours?

Looking for you has become my coffee in the morning

With the bitterness of the pavement bruising my palms and knees

Maybe that’s why they call it falling.

We mistake kindness for affection,

Friendliness for affliction

And we end up being an option to the question that doesn’t even exist.

I promised myself that I’ll stop writing about you

That that’s the last story, the last song, the last poem

But look at where I am today.


Amanda Palmera

Her shoulder blades are shaped like kites,

and her spine is the string tying her to safety.

She still thinks her palms are golden from being born

holding fire in each hand; the last candle at Kwanzaa

is the only thing she has ever met that shares her name:

Imani--we light this candle for faith.  

Ask her to draw the map of the world.

She’ll draw you USA shaped like a whale

and Philippines shaped like a seahorse,

and she’ll draw waves kissing their shoulders goodnight.

Imani’s four but she knows more about separation

that it is possible to learn about geography.  Mali, her mother,

who she calls nanay, taught her that the Spanish verb esperar

means to hope, to wish, and to wait all at the same time.

Philip, her father, who she calls dad,

taught her that the sound of the ocean, swelling beneath nanay’s belly

is her baby brother dreaming. This is what esperar feels like.

But the government sees only two people in one house:

one of them a father, the other an undocumented worker from the Philippines.

Ask Imani where nanay is going dressed like the American flag.

She’ll tell you, “to court,

where kings and queens play basketball on teams

to decide what it means to be American.” And nanay’s team lost.

Deportation is a suitcase made from the wrong color skin.

Kisses blown across eight thousand miles arrive

without spark and settle on shoulders busy wishing to be kites.

Imani wishes she could cut her own string, rise up into God’s hair

and stay there awhile, until the world looks like a drawing,

until love is not an arrow but a target,

until bringing countries together is as easy as folding the pages of a map.

When her baby brother flames bright into the morning and screams

whole oceans of honesty, Imani will turn his golden palms

so that he can see them. She will scorch her lips kissing them.

She will tell him that each strong finger is a candle burning the color of faith.


An Hyeseong

I am a present.

I disguised myself to give someone joy,

Donning wrapping paper of various colors like a cape,

And without even casting a glance down,

I walked along the dark invisible road.

I tripped over a jagged stone and stumbled around in a marsh.

My cape grew threadbare and revealed my bare soul.

Even before reaching the midpoint on this clock called life,

A piece of wrapping paper, a layer of a cape, weighed a ton to me.

I resolved not to be a present any more.

Stepping onto the heaps of fancy wrapping paper scattered about the ground,

I face the whole, pure me at last.

At this moment with no pretense,

My starting pistol is fired towards the sky again, signaling a new rise.


Song Chaeeun

A world that curls up like breath blown on a window.

We see the world that we envision on the glass.

The stains on the window force our warm breath to turn into a fog.

But I will raise my hand and wipe the window clean.

My hand will become cold and red from the frozen droplets of water.

Nevertheless, I will wipe off the faint stains with my hand.

The snow stops and the sun rises.

Our worlds will grow even warmer.

I would like to become that hand! That hand that wipes the window.

I would like to become that chilled, frozen hand with blisters on its palm.

From Natsume Soseki, my favorite writer, Charlie Puth, whose songs I listen to every time I sit at my desk, to the revered Nelson Mandela

Our worlds intersect with each other now!

We put our chilled palms together, hold each other’s hands, and grip them tightly.

世界, the world, 세계… we become one.


Chris Valdivia

Chorizo, lomo saltado, avocado, kimchi, sushi, and seven-elevens

reign my tongue and taste for adventure,

and since the travel-bug bit, I couldn’t find repellent.

No sunscreen could save me from a Chilean sun in the middle of

Elqui valley: camel’s humps and high hills had me living my high life.

Towers as tall as home trembled my inner New Yorker

as Seoul touched every mile of mine. Salt and peppers roads mirrored

my Manhattan streets, but the Bronxite in me saw nothing but home in a seven-eleven.

Because I missed my bodega: night-cravings called for a BEC were what I needed most,

because I also missed my abode, one similar to Peru where my mother’s dialect

dominated my own home, and I like how home feels.

Wherever I went was a place of worship,

where immersion overtook my senses and stole my heart.

At 17 years young there’s nothing else that occupies my dreams,

and having lived them, I plan to make my life a Utopia.

“How to become a God aka Alondra Uribe”

Alondra Uribe

You have to put the ketchup on the side, the cereal before the milk, deep condition then shampoo. You have to be flexible, move with a groove. Stay funky.
Flirt only if it’s weird and awkward and you can make it into an embarrassing story later.
Always make fun of your failed relationships, that’s how you heal.
Start braiding your hair and get frustrated, and your arms hurt because no one can do your hair like your mom.

Let it air dry while you sit in your towel and tell your friends you’re up the block when you haven’t even gotten dressed yet. Walk like a penguin so your new sneakers don’t crease, they were sixty five dollars. Put them back in the box everytime you take them off. You will eventually lose the box. Lose your mind, let it flow, rework the box and become rectangle. Triangle, acute and one hundred eighty five degrees.
Find x, do the math. Be critical and calculating, zero point seven gel point pen,
extra fine.

Woah, you fine. Sharp and cut throat. Pick up and kill and kill it again.  Can you keep up? Drop the beat and remix it? Are you the remix or the original? The movie marathon or the late night drive playlist? Be all and do all. Be netflix and hulu, bookbag and purse, spotify and youtube because I don’t use pandora. Be the wiz kid, kid be the wizard.
Be truthful and follow these instructions only if you absolutely have to. But remember you can never die because Gods live forever.