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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Amy Uyematsu Interview II
Narrator: Amy Uyematsu
Interviewers: Brian Niiya (primary); Valerie Matsumoto (secondary)
Location: Culver City, California
Date: December 8, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-524-7

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BN: Given the way you describe it, and just reading your poems, which are very personal and revealing, I mean, were you, to what degree were you comfortable publishing them and submitting them to Gidra and other publications versus doing it more for yourself?

AU: Well, I've been pretty comfortable in submitting my work. Every now and then I might have written about something that later on I decided, you know, this may not be the greatest thing to have out there in the written world. But overall, I just send in my stuff and see what happens to it. And I know when you submit things, I've often wondered, I did start submitting things early, I'm not quite sure what got into me to do that. [Interruption] I didn't have a writing background, I'm a math major, I didn't have an English minor, but not even a poetry background. And I started taking these classes on my own, but really... I just lost my train of thought. What did you ask at the beginning?

BN: How comfortable you were putting these out, given how personal, and the fact that you were using them as a journal to explore your feelings about things?

AU: I think what I was trying to say was that I'm not exactly sure what got me to start submitting, because I worked with the new writers. I used to teach a class at the Far East Lounge, and a lot of the people there, I think, are very shy about submitting or would be afraid of being rejected. And for some reason, I don't know, that didn't seem to bother me. It could also be because I got a decent number of acceptances. I didn't submit a whole lot, I submitted some, and then I got accepted some, so then that would encourage me to do a little more. But I still don't submit as much as (some of my poet friends). I've got a range of friends that they submit all kinds of journals all the time. I'm too lazy to do that. [Laughs]

BN: How did you feel or do you feel when you see your pieces published? Are you one of those who never wants to look at it again, or how does that make you feel?

AU: I mean, it feels good to see things published, especially pieces which are important to you for one reason or another, and that you want others to maybe get something out of. I've got a few pieces like that that I really hope the larger community can respond to.

BN: Now you mentioned -- well, as you started submitting poems and becoming known as a poet, were there other poets that you started to read more and become kind of influenced by? And then kind of related, you mentioned other poet friends, did you become sort of part of a community of poets at this point, and who were some of those folks?

AU: You know, I would have to say my main community of poet friends was, the workshops I took with Peter Levitt, it was a lot of the same people throughout that entire period, so we became very, very close to each other. So that was a big influence there. I've done a lot of reading of writers of color, poets of color, and that's always been helpful to me. I know early on, I really liked to read Lawson Inada and Janice Mirikitani. And I know Janice's style is direct and very accessible, and I think if people look at my work, there's kind of a little bit of that quality there. I don't know. [Laughs] Okay, you're asking... so there's a whole bunch of Asian American poets that I really enjoyed. In addition to Lawson and Janice, people like Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee. Gee, I read one of Li-Young Lee's books, just twenty times, probably. And then I have a huge collection of Juan Felipe Herrera's books. Juan Felipe was the California Poet Laureate. I have many, many books by Lucille Clifton, the African American poet. And I don't know, if you look at my own personal collection of the books I've decided to keep, many, many of the books are poets of color or international. The most books, poetry books I've ever bought were by Pablo Neruda. So I'm sure all this stuff does influence you, right? I wasn't really going to that many readings, so it was more my participating in the workshops and my own reading of other poets.

BN: Given that a lot of your poems kind of reference family history and explicitly tell family stories, what was your mom's or other family members' reaction to these, being published?

AU: My mom and dad, just generally speaking, are really proud of me for writing poetry. My mom, for like the first two books, she had book parties at her house, and we had Nisei and Sansei friends there. My dad, who was sort of a typical Nisei, he's not real openly affectionate, not that. After I wrote 30 Miles From J-Town, he wrote a note to and told me how proud he was. That was the first time he'd expressed that to me. So that was nice. My extended family, too, the ones that knew about the writing, they were very positive also.

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