Calista Ogburn: Sharing experiences through poetry

Calista Ogburn

Calista Ogburn is a Korean and Vietnamese American college student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County studying Public Health with a minor in Asian Studies. She has studied at International high schools overseas which has given her a global perspective. She reaches her readers by sharing her feelings and experiences through poetry.

Calista is the author of the poetry book ‘this is it’, which brings to light the rising anti-Asian racism that has infected American society along with the spread of COVID-19. The poems touch those who are feeling loss, loneliness, or the combined grief and rage of experiencing racism during the global pandemic.

How did your interest in poetry begin? What is it about poetry that you think makes it so impactful?

I moved from Vietnam to South Korea my Sophomore year of high school. I started writing poetry to express the struggles I was going through at the time. Ever since, poetry has been my best friend and lets me write every single thought or experience I’ve had. Poetry can never leave me and it’s supportive of me despite wherever I am and who I am.

Your poetry collection ‘this is it’ brings to light the rising anti-Asian racism as COVID-19 continues to spread. What inspired this collection and where did you get your ideas from?

As I mention in the author’s note of my book — I went to Home Depot with my older brother in March. It was a beautiful and calm morning. As we were there, we noticed there were a lot of stares. A woman stared at us as she pushed her cart the opposite direction. A man saw us and walked backward. The uncomfortable setting made me realize how serious of a negative impact Trump’s words has when he called COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus.” That moment, I wanted to write the book. I wanted to write for hours about the news I would read, the anger I felt, and my personal experiences. It sparked the idea to create the book and write about the injustices and hate crimes that have been targeted against Asian-Americans.

What were some key challenges you faced during the writing process of your book?

I had a writer’s block for a while before I decided to write the book. It was really difficult to break out of that mindset and encourage myself to write 4 poems a week. It was exhausting. I wrote 4 poems a week and It was difficult to put myself through all of those emotions again (fear, anger, anxiety). It was draining. But I knew I had to write. Writing was extremely therapeutic for me – it became more than just poetry. It was my best friend. Every time I wrote a poem, I felt as if I was talking for hours on a call with a best friend. It was comforting.

What does a typical writing day/schedule look like for you?

I usually write whenever I feel most comfortable! Whether it is super late at night or randomly in the afternoon. Inspirations come to me at different times of the day and I don’t usually have a set schedule.

Who is your main target audience and what do you hope they take away from this collection?

My main audience is — everyone! Although I write about the racism towards Asians and Asian-Americans, I write about the pandemic itself and the experience I’ve had living through it. Anyone can relate to the poems I write or at least learn to empathize.

What would you like to say to other Asians who may also be experiencing feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or fear during this global pandemic?

I am here with you! A lot of people feel the same emotions as you do — it is completely natural and normal. Maintaining a community of love and support around you is extremely important to stay connected and comforted.

What advice would you give to Asian youth who want to begin doing similar work that you are doing? How should they start and what should they keep in mind?

Confidence! When I first started writing poetry, I was so embarrassed. Ashamed. Afraid. After a few years, I broke out of that shell. Being confident in your poetry is so important. YOU wrote that poem. YOU shared your story. YOU should be proud! Writing poetry can be difficult and fun — there is no shame in being proud of your poetry. It’s yours and it is absolutely amazing!

Interviewed by Grace Xu, Nahyun Yong, and Cindy Wang

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