NYWC hART beat: A look at the poets and writers of our community

It is time for another installment of NYWC hART beat, a spotlight on one of the talented poets and writers in the NYWC community. May is almost over and I’m going to miss it. Not only because it is the last full month of Spring but, historically, the writing world got a big burst of energy in May, especially for feminism. Fun fact: did you know that this month in American history, was the birthday of journalist Margaret Fuller? Born May 23, 1810 in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, Fuller became not only the first woman to serve as a foreign correspondent, but her book Women in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, is considered the first feminist work by an American writer. But times have changed and now here at the NY Writers Coalition, we are lucky to have had in our midst a writer and poet, now residing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose work has been called “fiercely feminist yet tenderly personal” (bough breaks). Please say hello to poet and former NYWC workshop leader Tamiko Beyer.

Tamiko Beyer’s newest collection of poetry, We Come Elemental, was released this month from Alice James Books. You can also check out her chapbook, bough breaks, from Meritage Press, and her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Volta, Octopus, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. She is the Senior Writer at Corporate Accountability International and lives in Cambridge, MA. Find her online at tamikobeyer.com.

Q: When did you know you were a poet? Tell us a story about your first poem.
A: In high school, I wrote a series of poems based on photos from the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It was a way for me to understand more fully my own history, and that of my community. As I wrote in the voice of the people in the photos, and I was astounded at the way poetry allowed me to inhabit another world, another worldview. I also fell in love with the sound of language. I began to get a glimpse of how sound and meaning together make poetry what it is, and different from other kinds of writing. It was thrilling.

In this project, I had a mentor, a working poet, Jan Wallace. who worked with me and introduced me to other Asian American poets – Li Young Lee, Garrett Hongo, and others, and I’m so grateful to her for her encouragement and mentorship.

Q: If your writing/poetry was an instrument, what would it sound like?
A: Maybe a strange string trio: shakuhachi, ukulele, and cello.

Q: How/Where do you hear poetry?
A: I hear poetry in the rattling of the subway, in a cardinal’s insistent song, in my love’s voice, in the snatches of conversations on city streets, in the sound of bicycle gears shifting, in the late afternoon sunshine, and in the crashing waves of the Atlantic.

Q: When you get an idea for a poem, what do you get? An image? A line, etc.?
A: I write a lot of nonsense on paper and screens. I start my freewrites, automatic writings from images, half-remembered stories, lingering sensory memories, incomplete phrases, and unarticulated emotions. From there, I pull forward the lines and themes that are most intriguing to me, and I use that raw material to shape and craft a poem.

Q: How do you think you take risks in your writing?
A: I am happiest with my poetry when I trust the material, the language, and the reader enough to not overwrite. It feels risky to not always make meaning plain, to experiment with language, to lean on the lyric without immersing the poem fully. It also feels risky to write about things that matter deeply to me; it makes me feel vulnerable, raw at times.

Q: What poem do you carry in your pocket (or in your head or heart)? Why?
A: There are many poems I carry with me in my head and heart, and sometimes in my pocket. Recently, I’ve been carrying the “Floating Poem” from Adrienne Rich’s “21 Love Poems.” I’ve that poem loved for years, and I’m currently in love with how beautifully and tenderly that section captures the joyous physicality of queer women’s love. When I’m looking for strength and steadiness, I almost always turn to Joy Harjo’s “The Creation Story.”

Q: Why does the world need poetry?
A: The world would probably carry on OK without poetry. But there is a depth of experience and feeling that, in my experience, only good poetry can evoke. The way that good poetry conveys meaning almost beyond language … there’s a sense of transcendence that feels almost spiritual to me. Without poetry, there would be a much magic missing from the world.


  1. The world would probably carry on OK without poetry. […][but] Without poetry, there would be a much magic missing from the world.” love it.

    Also, I looked into Joy Harjo’s “The Creation Story”–it makes for a great writing prompt! Very powerful. Geek Dame paired it with this great photo, too: http://geekdame.tumblr.com/post/10250683601/the-creation-story-by-joy-harjo-im-not-afraid-of

    Great interview.