10 Student Stories to Celebrate 10 Years: Duy Quang Mai
October 28, 2021
In celebration of 10 years of Bow Seat’s Ocean Awareness Contest, we are showcasing some of the young artists who have helped turn this competition into a global community of creators and changemakers working on behalf of our blue planet.

Duy Quang Mai is a Bow Seat alumni judge for Poetry & Spoken Word whose 2019 Ocean Awareness Contest submission won a Silver Award and the Founder’s Favorite Award in Poetry. Originally hailing from Hanoi, Vietnam, he is currently a freshman at the University of British Columbia. His poems have been published or are forthcoming from The American Poetry Review, diaCRITICS, AAWW, and others. He is also the author of the chapbooks “Homeword” and “Journals to” (Story Factory, 2018-19).

How long have you been creating poetry? When did you first become interested in the arts?

For as long as I can remember, I have always played around with words, especially as a means to process my emotions and communicate the way I see the world. It was through journaling and note-taking on my phone that I first engaged with poetry as a creative practice. I would jot down my thoughts as I experimented with ways to interpret my surroundings and my familial and cultural relationships. I still do!

How do you think your work or creative practice has developed or changed over time?

I would say that I’ve become more intentional and less sporadic in my craft. My writing has become somewhat less fragmentary, more lyrical, and more narrative-based (though I’m not saying that developing your creative work necessarily means it has to be structured). Also, I feel less pressure to create and to get my work out there—I feel more creative agency rather than like my work has to be dictated by other external factors (such as competitions, publications, etc.).

Why did you first participate in the Ocean Awareness Contest, and why did you continue to become involved with Bow Seat?

I used to feel like my purpose in creating was to receive external validation, and the Ocean Awareness Contest seemed like the perfect opportunity to get that. I’ve since moved away from that mindset. Now, I continue to be an active part of Bow Seat’s community of creatives because I believe in the Contest’s mission: to encourage young people to advocate for ocean conservation through the arts. To see the Bow Seat community branching out more and more to speak out against negligent socio-political practices that affect our environment is truly inspiring. It reminds me that I, too, have a voice in the environmental movement. Through the act of creatively speaking out for our blue planet, we (Bow Seat program participants) are able to collectively reclaim our sense of human justice and freedom.

What have you learned from participating in the Ocean Awareness Contest?

The most significant thing I’ve learned is that I should always look to be a part of a community of thriving creatives. To see the arts practiced and appreciated around a cause is truly the most wonderful thing. It reminds me of my starting point: I started journaling because I wanted to see little movements spring up around the world and examine how they worked against the pre-existing power structures all around us. The Ocean Awareness Contest is doing just that with young creatives.

How is climate change affecting your community?

I was born and raised in Vietnam, a country that has gone through countless freedom struggles against colonialism, which decimated our economic and social abilities. Though we are slowly progressing away from this colonial legacy, we are simultaneously sundering our cultural and social ties to the land and the sea by adopting a capitalist economic framework. Economics seems to be our first priority while environmental protections seem to be nowhere near our priority list. This, of course, only makes us more susceptible to the effects of climate change. In recent years, lower-income Vietnamese have been disproportionately displaced by floods in Central Vietnam. In my 2019 Ocean Awareness Contest submission, I wrote about countless fish being dead, bellying up at the water’s surface and floating ashore. Those are not just fish, they’re our farmers’ resources—what they use to provide for their families. Climate change only widens economic and racial disparities around the world (just look at Hurricane Katrina). Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change seem to be rendered invisible to those at the top who are perhaps too concerned with themselves to see the reality of our shared planet. I feel frustrated not taking any action, so I write hoping that my poems will resonate somewhere and be of some use.

Winners of the 10th annual Ocean Awareness Contest: WATER RISING will be announced in mid-November of 2021. The 2022 Ocean Awareness Contest: THE FUNNY THING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, is accepting submissions through June 13, 2022. Learn more about how to participate.

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10 Student Stories to Celebrate 10 Years: Duy Quang Mai

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