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Shin Yu Pai’s Poetic Search For Belonging

Shin Yu Pai’s Poetic Search For Belonging

Can poetry transcend the barriers of language and culture? For Civic Poet of Seattle, Shin Yu Pai, poetry is a bridge fostering connection and understanding.
Poet Shin Yu Pai (photo by Sung Park)

“Growing up in a place where I didn't feel at home in my skin, I think that I felt a pretty profound sense of dislocation, and that a lot of my adult life was about trying to listen to myself and to feel into where I felt most at home or a sense of belonging.”

-Shin Yu Pai, Civic Poet of Seattle (2023-2024)

The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and the author of 13 books, Seattle-based poet Shin Yu Pai has always sought a sense of belonging in language. Even at an early age, she was eager to understand and master the spoken and written word; but it was a complicated ambition because she had an immigrant mother who didn’t learn English until her late 20s and early 30s. And although Pai had ended her own Taiwanese language education at around 5 years old, her mother continued to speak to her in mostly Taiwanese with a “smattering of English words,” she said during her interview with Artists Up Close.

“So, we have kind of this pidgin language in which we communicate,” Pai said. “And it always felt in some way, like poetry, to be this imaginative space and language where my mother and I could find this commonality and this connection. I see it very much as a kind of space of longing and desire, where connection can be forged.”

Painting for the wind

Write down your favorite words

on separate scraps of paper.

Leave the paper where there is wind.

The scraps of paper can be lottery receipts,

business cards, or paper napkins.

(excerpt from poem by Shin Yu Pai)

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