Famous poet and South graduate discusses racism with South English classes

Gabe Bethke, Staff writer

“Doing what I do is kind of like being a famous movie star, but not getting paid anything” stated Bao Phi, South High graduate and nationally acclaimed poet in a recent classroom visit to David Rathbun’s CIS and Poetry classes.

Phi graduated from South in 1993, and now works for The Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis. Phi’s visit was part of National Poetry Month, a national initiative to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry nationwide.

In Rathbun’s room on Wednesday, Phi read a few of his notable poems from the past, and also shared a few new pieces with the student audience. Following his reading was a lively question and answer period where the group discussed topics like the subtle and more obvious racism that is prevalent in american society.

Phi, originally born in Vietnam, moved to America before he could remember his  childhood. Phi grew up in the Phillips neighborhood “I was born there, and then a few months later Saigon fell to the communist party. My parents were allied with the U.S. so we got out.”

Phi graduated from South in ‘93 and went on to Macalester College in St. Paul. Despite a somewhat metropolitan education, his message is still aimed at urban and marginalized communities.

Phi is one of many South graduates to “make it in the real world” and said he feels that it is incredibly important to help kids do what they love to do. Phi explains “A lot of my work with The Loft is helping marginalized communities; Asian-American, Chicano, African-American, queer, and other groups sort of reaffirm themselves in a way that’s productive, but also help them to talk about themselves.”

Phi’s recent accomplishments are getting onto Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on HBO, being a 2-time winner of the Minnesota Grand Poetry Slam, and most recently getting reviewed by The New York Times in December for a book he released titled Sông I Sing. The Times called his work “strong and angry… rants and scowls at a culture in which Asians are invisible.”

Rathbun, who teaches the CIS Intro to Literature and Poetry classes that Phi visited, said that “We’re incredibly lucky to have people like Bao that have had such a large impact on the country able to come and talk to us, I mean he’s sort of a big deal.”