“I don’t know why I feel like I have to have sex with other people than you. … My kisses on your neck may not be exclusive, but they’re not random either.” – Kelly Zen- Yie Tsai
ISSUE: Spring 2011
STORY: Anna M. Park
With spoken word poet Kelly Zen- Yie Tsai, what you hear is pretty much what you get.
“If I was the center of everything for a day everything would be aimed towards, dictated by, catered to, tailored for 5-foot-2 tattooed Asian females.”
“I don’t know why I feel like I have to have sex with other people than you. … My kisses on your neck may not be exclusive, but they’re not random either.”
“When it comes down to … whether my heart, my uterus, my tax return and my generation is gonna be governed by your sorry self, I would like to say that I’m real. I’m here. I’m voting. And believe me this girl is yellow.”*
“Sometimes, I wish [my spoken word persona] was an outlet or a character since it gets me into trouble,” says Tsai. “I think I took that stereotype of Asian females as being silent and passive and just imploded it in reverse.”
And she has a lot to say in her second album, the 11-track Further She Wrote, written during a time period “where I was questioning a lot of my previous ideals,” from cultural identity to love and sex to even electoral politics. (Her video for “Black, White, Whatever …” went viral the day before Barack Obama’s historic election, garnering more than 200,000 hits.)
Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, the 32-year-old Chinese- Taiwanese American has been performing spoken word for more than a decade, inspired by a high school English teacher who would take students to original poetry slams at local bars. Tsai got her big break on three seasons of Russell Simmons Presents HBO Def Poetry.
“I have a lot of curiosity about the world,” she says, from grilling a cab driver in Vancouver about life, to performing at the World Social Forum in Kenya. “Hands down, one of the most emotional performances I ever did,” says Tsai of the latter. “It was incredible to be able to look into each of those people’s eyes, feel their energies, and share the power of the word.”
*Lyrics from “Self-Centered,” “The Confessions of Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai,” and “Black, White, Whatever …”
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