Densho Digital Repository
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

<Begin Segment 1>

BN: Okay. So we are continuing with our interview with Amy Uyematsu. We're again doing it remotely, and it's December the 8th, 2022. I am Brian Niiya, and I'm joined by my co-interviewer, Valerie Matsumoto. And Dana Hoshide with Densho is behind the scenes running the software behind the interview. So thank you again, Amy, so much for coming back. I think we're going to focus mostly on your poetry, but we have some other things we want to kind of pick up from last week. And I thought I'd start with kind of the question or the story that you had referred, because we had talked about to what degree your family talked about camp, and you mentioned something about your grandparents and your son. But anyway, maybe wanted to start with that.

AU: Okay. I'm trying to remember if I already told you. I had started doing a tape biography with my father, so some of the information I got about the Uyematsu experience in camp was on those taped interviews. And actually, some of those stories ended up in poems. But I also remembered that my mother, besides talking about how fun it was to be a teenager in camp, and then she had told me about how humiliating it was, hurtful it was to leave on the train, in more recent years, in her seventies and eighties, she would talk about being given just the twenty-five dollars and a train ticket, which was interesting to see what she was emphasizing at that time. And in her later years, she also did tell me about Grandpa Morita and some of his activities at Gila. So that resulted in a poem also, based on what Mom told me. I wanted to bring in my grandkids because there's a huge contrast between my experience in my high school civics class. No mention of the camps in the books, and my classmates wouldn't believe me. And then go down to my grandson's experience, recent, they both attended Clarendon elementary school in San Francisco Public Unified. And they both were lucky enough to get a Ms. Tanaka for fourth grade, and Ms. Tanaka has written a play about Fred Korematsu. So part of the fourth grade activities is for the kids, the little fourth graders to try out for their parts and then do this play. And both Tyler, my older grandson, and then three years later, Mason, they both played the part of Sansei lawyer Dale Minami, which is kind of cool. And then they actually got to meet him in person because -- it's one of those small world things -- Dale Minami's daughters are a little younger than my grandsons, and they were coming up right there through the same Clarendon elementary school. So I thought that was kind of, very interesting to see the contrast.


BN: Thanks, that was a great story. The interviews with your, was it both grandfathers? About when were they?

AU: No, I had an interview with my father.

BN: Oh, I'm sorry, your father.

AU: My grandfathers had already passed.

BN: Right, right, okay. But about when was that?

AU: With my dad, I'm guessing maybe in the '80s, the '80s, '90s, and that I never finished.

BN: Okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

BN: And then since you mentioned it, the stories that may have worked its way into poems, I was going to maybe ask you about that later. But since you've broached it, I kind of want to maybe ask you about that now if you don't mind. But there is a story in the poem "Desert Camouflage" about the camouflage net factory. I'm wondering if that's one of the stories?

AU: Yeah, that's the story that Mom told me about Grandpa Morita. Now, Grandpa Morita's the one that spoke to you in English, and he was very pro-American, proud to be an American... well, I guess he couldn't get citizenship yet, but he did even serve in World War I. He didn't see action, but he was in the army. And so very, very patriotic. At Gila, I guess the internees were supposed to or required to make camouflage netting for the military. And, of course, there were probably plenty people in camp that didn't want to do that, understandably. Here they're locked up, and then they're supposed to help out the government that did this to them. But my grandfather being very patriotic, I could see my mother's telling me that he actually used his, he had a good way with people, and he used his personality and charm to try to get people behind the effort and to help make the camouflage netting. So that's where that came from.

BN: Do you have a sense of where that kind of patriotism came from?

AU: In my grandfather?

BN: Yeah. I mean, for an Issei...

AU: Yeah, interesting question. I don't know. He was very Christian, both sides were very Christian. I don't know if that had anything to do with his learning English early. I know when he first came over to San Francisco, he had rocks thrown at him. So it's not like he had it easy, I mean, he had it rough like all the Issei that immigrated. So I'm not sure where that came from, I should ask my mother if she knows.

BN: And then given that stance, was there any stories or discussion of the, having problems with other Japanese Americans who maybe opposed that perspective or might have considered him an inu? Or you know what I mean, there's this stigma, or there was this portion of the population that really turned very anti-American, understandably in that context.

AU: Right, right. You know, I don't know anything beyond my mother's telling me that story about the netting. I don't know if Grandpa had that kind of, there was that kind of discord within Gila. But he would have stood out anyway just by the fact he spoke fluent English, right?

BN: Right.

AU: Right? Yeah. Living kind of different.

BN: The other story that I wanted to ask you about was in the "36 Views of Manzanar" where you tell a story about your father brokering a deal to go to Manzanar kind of in exchange for providing cherry trees. So I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that story.

AU: Well, that has to do with the fact that the Uyematsus were assigned to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. And my dad happened to know Paul Bannai, another Nisei about his age who had already found a job at Manzanar. So he had some authority to do things. And Dad made a deal with Paul to get the Uyematsus' orders transferred to Manzanar in exchange for Grandpa donating cherry trees and I think also wisteria to the camps. And I later learned that those cherry trees were planted in Manzanar at the Children's Village where they held many orphans during the relocation. So I hear these bits and pieces, like from my dad's interview, and they ended up in the longer poem, "36 Views of Manzanar."

BN: Did they remain friends, he and Paul, throughout their lives?

AU: I don't think so. I see pictures of Paul and my dad and both the wives before then, pictures probably taken in the '50s. The '50s, early '60s, but I don't see anything later than that, so I don't think that relationship kept going.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

BN: Okay. Let's go back to now the redress movement. In a general sense, was wondering if you or anyone in your family were kind of involved in the redress movement.

AU: You know, none of us were involved. And looking back, I'm kind of wondering, I'm not exactly sure why because at that time, my mom and my sister were both at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. I think, well, I'm not sure about my sister, but my mother was there for sure. I had sort of dropped out of movement things. I was a divorcee raising my son, working full time. So I really wasn't doing anything with the community. But no, no one in our family got involved. And I'm sure glad there were a lot of JAs that did, and I'm so happy they stood up. And I'm good friends with some of the people that were very active. So important. My one thing about redress is I'm just sorry that it occurred, for many Issei, after they were gone. So like my grandparents, none of them lived long enough to learn about the reparations and the apology from the President. I think that would have meant a lot to many of them.

BN: Was your dad still alive?

AU: Yeah, he was.

BN: Okay. I'm just wondering how, if you had a sense of how they felt about actually getting the check and getting the letter.

AU: You know, my dad didn't seem to have much of a reaction. I don't really know why, I never asked. I don't remember my mother's reaction at the time.

BN: I mean, with a lot of families, and the community as a whole, the redress movement sort of sparks this revival of interest in the camp story and pilgrimage, days of remembrance and so forth. Did you take part in any of those kinds of things, or your parents?

AU: I believe my sister went to one of the first or second pilgrimages. I didn't go all these decades, and so I'm sure a lot of the redress activities, the day of remembrance activities, that kind of perked me up toward going on a pilgrimage, I think around 2019. I went on my first pilgrimage, and I'm really glad I did. And then I do attend DORs when I'm able to. And, of course, once again, I've written a couple of pieces, too, that are specifically about the days of remembrance.

VM: May I interject a question? Amy, in a number of your poems in several books, you do mention the Vietnam War and its impact and responses, and then later reverberations with other wars. And I was wondering, because I did not grow up in a Japanese American community. I was wondering if you could... and, in fact, you had several poems that talked more specifically about how it impacted families, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what you remember of the dynamics between Nisei and Sansei with regard to the Vietnam War here in Southern California? Whether in your family or outside.

AU: Gee. My sister and I were both part of the early Asian American Movement in L.A., and that was really focused on antiwar activities in the late '60s, war was still going on. So I think our parents, I don't even remember either of my parents ever objecting to things we were participating in, in regards to the war. I think we did have the reputation among the larger clan, extended clan, that our family -- and maybe my mother, too, because she worked at Asian American Studies Center -- that our family was a little bit leaning to the left, slash radical, slash not very Nisei-ish. [Laughs] Not typical Nisei.

VM: I just wondered because I knew that, or maybe because in your family there were two Sansei daughters, they knew that a lot of Sansei men were facing the issues of the draft, and that parents and sons... I just wondered if, in your family, there were any discussions, I mean, the larger extended family or even your friends, that you noticed.

AU: Well, I can give you something a little closer to home. I got married in 1970, and my husband at the time, Randy, his draft number was one of the early numbers picked. And I had very strong anti-Vietnam War views. He was a Sansei who wasn't really that political. So I remember we had lots of arguments -- well, they turned out to be arguments, but I was trying to urge him to say that he didn't want to go to Vietnam and was a pacifist and a Buddhist, because he is a Buddhist. [Interruption] I don't know if that's called a religious deferment. It was something at the time where I think some people got out of serving in the army. But he wouldn't do that, and I remember being frustrated about it. But what he did do is he joined the reserves, which was a pretty long commitment. I think it was something like six years he had to serve in the reserves.

VM: Thank you.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

VM: Brian, is this a time to move to the writing, or did you have other things you wanted to ask?

BN: No. Yeah, why don't we go ahead to the Asian American Women Writers West?

VM: This was a really important group and you were there from the early start. We're hoping that you could tell us how you got involved with Pacific Asian American Women Writers West?

AU: Okay. And I'll just call them PAAWWW, which I like because it's like "pow," right? I got involved with PAAWWW really because I took a writing class at the Japanese American Community and Cultural Center, or was it Cultural and Community Center? But at JACCC, Momoko Iko, the playwright, offered a couple of creative writing classes, and I attended both of those. And it was really, it really helped me as a young poet, she was very, very supportive. And some of the poems that ended up in my first book, the first expression of those came out, some of them came out in Momoko's workshop. So Momoko was a member of PAAWWW and she invited me to join. At the time I was in PAAWWW, we mainly did performances. So our meetings would be around planning for those performances. I think I read one of your questions about did we maybe help each other with our writing, maybe give feedback on each other's writing. And I'm not aware of that occurring, although maybe it was happening on an individual level. But as a group, we didn't do anything like that, we didn't really look at, as a group, a person's writing and give comments. So like I said, it was more performance and social. And for me, just the fact that these were all Asian American women writers from L.A. that that's not an easy task. Just being in the same room with them and having coffee with them was very nice. It included people besides Momoko, people like Naomi Hirahara, she was just a baby when I was in PAAWWW. She was just coming out of college. Who else, Joyce Nako, Jude Narita, people like that.

VM: I never actually got to meet Momoko Iko. Well, we had one phone conversation. Can you describe her for me? What was she like?

AU: She had one of these, sort of, wry sense of humors and very intelligent, really smart, very kind, often had kind of a little smile on her face. For me personally as a writer, she really gave me positive affirmation. And from there I went on and took more classes at UCLA. I consider Momoko and Peter Levitt, the two main teachers in my own writing development.

VM: Was Peter Levitt a teacher at UCLA?

AU: Yeah. He taught poetry at UCLA Extension, and my first two classes there were fiction classes. And I wrote some short stories which I've never submitted any place. And toward the end of the second class with the same instructor, I think his name was Wilson, Professor Wilson. He wrote the comment, "You might be better suited for poetry." [Laughs] So there was something about the way, I guess, I wrote. So the next extension class I signed up for was poetry. And I had no idea who Peter Levitt was, but he's the instructor I got. And once I met Peter, I worked within the UCLA Extension, and then he invited me into his private workshops, which were a small number of people. And that was around 1984, 1985, and I stayed with Peter until 2000 when he moved to Canada with his family.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

VM: Can you tell us about some of the other members? Because I also don't know Joyce Nako, and I did get to hear Jude. I saw her perform once, but I don't really know them. Can you describe them for us?

AU: Well, Jude comes from kind of an unusual background. Her mother is a Nisei who I think is a jazz producer, or used to do that, in New York. I mean, that's sort of a rare job for anyone, much less a Nisei woman. So she comes from that background, I don't know how much that might have affected her, but I know Jude and one or two of her brothers were all kind of in the theater, in show business. So I don't think that's just coincidence. But Jude, she had to write her own scripts because, of course, she wasn't getting roles and she wanted to talk from an Asian American women's perspective, so she wrote her own narratives and did solo performances, which were great. And so Valerie, you said you got to see her once?

VM: Yes, it was really remarkable, at East West Players.

AU: Right.

VM: And tell us about Joyce Nako. What was she like?

AU: Joyce Nako is, she's a very high energy person, very high energy, very down to earth. I kind of remember her with a cigarette, I don't know if she still smokes. [Laughs] And she's funny, I didn't know her husband, but she was married to a Sansei man who, in the early movement years, I think a lot of people knew about his cooking. And then he passed at a pretty early age, but Joyce, I think, is currently trying to work on a book about her husband and his cooking and maybe that period in their life. So she's working on that, I think Miya Iwataki is contributing. But Joyce is, she's a very nice woman, cool. [Laughs]

VM: Well, you're a very cool group, I have to say. Are there other members that you kept in touch with?

AU: Not... well, not that I've kept in touch with. I wasn't in PAAWWW at the same time as Miya, but I'm very much in touch with Miya now. So she was there before me.

BN: And was Emma Gee -- oh, sorry.

AU: Oh yeah, I forgot, Emma Gee was also in PAAWWW. And Emma Gee was Yuji Ichioka's wife, and both of them were activists, activists to the max. You know how they gave Yuji credit for the "Asian American"? Sometimes I'm wondering if Emma had any input on that, coining that term. Because credit's given to Yuji, right? But Emma was good. I mean, she and Momoko were kind of the older people in PAAWWW. So I kind of looked up to them also just for their experience.

VM: It sounds like PAAWWW was really important to you in multiple ways. Can you give us sort of a capsule of that?

AU: Well, I think I mentioned, I mean, just being with fellow writers who are facing obstacles was good. And then doing performances with an all-Asian American group. I mean, that's not something you see every day. So that was pretty special when you'd get six or seven of us each doing our poem or story. So there was that aspect of it, which was a learning experience, performing our work. And also just, I think I mentioned the social aspect, it was nice, very, very nice. And I don't know what you would consider this, but for us to get out in the community and do those performances, we felt was also important for the community, the Asian American community to see this.

VM: Thank you.

BN: I'm actually curious about the performances. I mean, where, what kind of venues did you perform at, like how frequently?

AU: They weren't that frequent venues. One was a library, one or two were libraries. I don't really remember the other venues. Maybe I would remember better if I were in charge of finding the venue but I wasn't, I just went. [Laughs]

BN: And then was there like a, kind of unofficial leader of the group?

AU: Well, I think, actually, I think we did have a... my memory is so weak on this, but at some point I think Jude Narita was our... I don't know if we had a word for our president, our chairperson, something or other, but she was in charge. But I don't remember too much about that.

VM: Maybe she's the wrong generation, but did Wakako Yamauchi ever do anything with PAAWWW?

AU: She did. She did off and on. I think there was at least one performance where she joined us.

VM: And how about Mitsuye Yamada?

AU: Not with PAAWWW, not that I can recall, when I was in there. Of course, PAAWWW was there a long time before I joined.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BN: And I think this kind of segues now right into the next session, kind of discussing your poetry. You mentioned a little bit about the origins of that. I'm kind of curious, were you, even before you started writing poems, did you have an interest in poetry as a younger person, or did you read poetry?

AU: You know, I'm not aware of reading poetry until... you had to read poetry maybe in junior high, in your English class. So no, I wasn't reading poetry on my own. I've sometimes wondered if there's, if certain genes are passed on, you know, like someone whose parent is a painter or sculptor, that type of thing. Because my Uyematsu grandmother wrote tanka, and she was in that very active group of Issei that would contribute their poems to the local ethnic newspaper. I don't know if it was Kashu Mainichi or the Rafu at the time. But prewar, I know, Grandma submitted a lot of her tanka. And the fact that my father could really write well, and I've always had an easy time writing, I've sometimes wondered if it kind of got passed down. [Narr. note: My mother Elsie wrote a column for the Kashu Mainichi.]

Okay, so you were asking about what got me into it. So really, what really started sparking my interest in poetry was a class I took maybe as a sophomore at UCLA. And don't ask me why, for some reason I was drawn to the poems of John Donne, that British poet, and I actually went to the UCLA bookstore and bought a book of poems by him. I don't think I ever read many of them, but I still have that book. I kept it just because it was so strange. But on the other hand, in the next year or two, I would start getting active in the movement and be reading poetry that I'd see in the movement, particularly in Gidra every month, there'd be a poetry page. So that really inspired me. I'll back up a bit, I may have mentioned this earlier, but I did write my first formal poem as a high school junior at Pasadena High, and it was a protest poem called "Simon Says," and I was sort of protesting my peers for being copycats and just conforming to something, because someone said you needed to... so I guess I kept those protest poems up, and I put three at the back of my "Yellow Power" essay when I took Asian American Studies at UCLA in 1969. Poetry seemed to be the (easiest way for) expression. Things I couldn't put down in my essay, feelings, I could put it into a poem. I've been thinking that poetry really has been a vehicle for me to express myself. I'm not that comfortable a speaker in groups, like if you get three to five people together, I'm usually the person that says hardly anything or nothing. I just kind of retreat, I'm not sure where that comes from. But as a young teen, college person, I was on the shy side. So I've sometimes wondered if poetry as well as journal writing, which I started doing in my twenties, has been kind of a release for me to where other people might be talking more, I'm putting things down in my journals and in my poems. So I think that's initially probably why I would find myself writing poems. Even before I started taking poetry classes, if something happened that was, like I know when I turned twenty-five, I wrote a long poem. You know, if there was something stressful that happened, I might want to write a poem. Maybe you could even say it was a form of therapy.

But then the longer I got into writing poetry, I was also just seeing how much it was connecting me to everything. To the outside world, to nature, to other people. It was connecting me to my inner self. And so when I think of poetry, I just think connections. That's how it works for me. And then I think I said something about it's also a way for me to help my memory, because I am forgetful. So if I can get something before I forget it into a journal or a poem, then at least the whole experience isn't lost.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

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.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

VM: Could you tell us a little bit about, I remember how excited I was when I first saw 30 Miles From J-Town, which I have right here. And I was wondering if you could tell us about how your first book, which won a very impressive award also, how that came together.

AU: Sure. You know, in the years I first started working with Peter, you figure, that book got published in '92. So like let's say the late '80s, I mean, Peter's workshops, and the poems were just coming out, lot of poems. Many of the poems were about my being raised in a racist environment. One of the poems was about a cross being burned on our Jewish neighbor's front yard, that incident ended up in a poem. December 7th was always dreaded by me because the other kids would call me "Jap" and the teachers wouldn't tell them to stop. So a lot of these poems ended up in 30 Miles. And around that time, I guess I had started to enter a couple of literary contests where the prize is the poetry book. And this may seem kind of strange, but one day, I think toward the end of the year, this must have been in '91, I got a call from Story Line Press, Robert McDowell, the editor, and he told me I'd won the Nicholas Roerich award. And I didn't even remember that I entered that contest. I'd entered maybe two or three that year. So that was a nice surprise, but yeah, they picked my book. And it kind of... at least for me, it seems like it made a big difference to have that first book out there, then people are more open to seeing other things. For the 30 Miles from J-Town, they did give me, besides being published they gave me a thousand dollars. But they have the awards ceremony at the Roerich Museum in New York City. They don't pay to fly you out there, so I used my thousand to fly my mom and me out to New York, where we got the award.

VM: Actually, that's a very fitting award because I think he was a mystic, and there's a very interesting spiritual element through all of your books.

AU: Was that a question just now? [Laughs]

BN: I'm curious now, many years later, how you feel about those earlier poems today.

AU: For the most part I still like them. I get a kick out of them. Like my poem about going to Sansei dances, it was fun. It was a fun time in my life. When I think of poems that are kind of locked into a certain time and place, I think that's okay. It just gives the reader some kind of information and a picture of something that occurred at that time. So I keep thinking that if people want to see what a Sansei baby boomer in L.A. was experiencing, here are some things. Like the kenjinkai picnics that our families would go to in Elysian Park.

BN: As you kind of put these poems out there, you get some acclaim and positive reviews for the book, I'm curious if you noticed how the reaction was in particular between Japanese American readers and audiences and non-Japanese American readers, thinking about something like the Sansei dances or these very specific kinds of things that there's an inside knowledge about, versus people who have no idea what you're writing about.

AU: I think it's a much stronger reaction from fellow JAs, or even other minorities who can relate to a lot of things from a minority point of view. But I have to say, even some of those, like the Sansei dance poems, has been received well when I read to a largely white audience. So I think people just associated with, you know, this was high school, this girl's experience, and it was a time when Motown was big.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AU: So Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain came out in 1998. And my publisher, Robert McDowell, had told me that he would put out a second book, which I thought was great. And I was still very grateful to Story Line for putting out the first book. I don't think I'd signed any kind of contract, and I was contacted by Allan Kornblum who was the editor of Coffee House Press, and he said that he was interested in my manuscript. Coffee House would have been a much better fit for me, ultimately, I think, because they were publishing Karen Tei Yamashita, Lawson Inada, a lot of writers of color. But I felt that I'd already said to Robert, "I'll do my second book with you." So I didn't go with Coffee House, but I've sometimes wondered, I wonder how my own poetry journey might have been different if I'd gone with a much bigger and better known press for writers of color. Just curious. Now, Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain, again, it's a mixture of the personal and the political in all my books. It starts out with a poem about Latasha Harlins, and it's basically on Latasha's side and criticizing the Korean shop owner who shot her in the back because she though Latasha had stolen a carton of orange juice. This has sort of an interesting side story to it. Mitsuye Yamada invited me to read at one of her classes -- I don't know what the title of the class was -- at UC Irvine. And she had Korean American students in the class who were very, very upset by this poem and thought I was far too biased against Soon Ja Du. So that was interesting. Because, like you said, asked earlier, do I regret having any poems out? I still don't regret having this poem out. It's still, the perspective, I feel, is important. I have a poem on a student I had in class named Florentino Diaz, who's a gang member, and I've read that at a lot of readings, and I get very good feedback on that, because I'm just trying to express sort of the alienation this young man feels. And in this book... every book has Asian American poems, and this one, one of the poems is, "In America Yellow Is Still an Insult." And so that's kind of a recurring thing for me is how the color yellow has been used against us. But the poem that I think has gotten the most play from this book is "The Ten Million Flames of Los Angeles." And it was written after the earthquakes and the riots and is kind of a poem of compassion, really, and trying to talk about what's been going on in L.A., but talking about the people and the masses in a positive way. So I guess interestingly, this has gotten picked up in anthologies, that type of thing. So that's Nights of Fire.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

My third book came out in 2005, it's called Stone Bow Prayer, which is actually the title of one of the poems in the book. I like the fact that you could interpret it as "stone bow prayer," because I think in a lot of my work, I'm also trying to bow and to honor something. This has its own kind of weird, weird history, Stone Bow Prayer, because Copper Canyon Press, which was the press that published all the Pablo Neruda books I was buying, and for me, anyway, with my limited knowledge of the poetry scene, Copper Canyon was one of the presses that I really looked up to. So they used to have a contest, and I submitted two years in a row. And both years, it turns out I was, like, runner up, I came in second. And so Sam Hamill, who at the time was the, he was the founder, one of the founders of Copper Canyon, and at the time was still editor. [Interruption] But anyway, he said that he'd be willing to take on the book, so I was really happy. Copper Canyon did Stone Bow Prayer (...). And it is different because I organized it according to the Japanese monthly calendar, which is based on the Chinese lunar calendar. And so every chapter's name is the name of a month. So, for example, satsuki, May is the month for planting rice shoots, or fumitsuki, July is the month of writing poetry. And I kind of like this because it gave me a framework to put my poems -- I was able to cover lots of different sections, because I had twelve sections, that were short to medium length. Well, anyway, that's the way this book is organized. It's the first book where I had an entire section of mathematical poems. It also has lots of nature poems in here and stone poems, which, as you know, has become a recurring theme for me. And there is an Asian American section, and actually, that's where I wrote about "Desert Camouflage," the poem (about) Grandpa Morita, but also I wrote "The Fold," the practice of many Japanese Americans -- but also now Asian Americans -- at the time were getting the plastic surgery to get double lids, double eyelid. And my uncle, my mother's brother-in-law, was actually a very successful plastic surgeon. And did surgeries, has done surgeries on many in the JA community. So this was kind of interesting. And then another poem in here which I had fun with is called "Flavor of the Month." And it resulted after I saw a Newsweek article that said, "Why Asian guys are on a roll." This was Newsweek magazine, February 21, 2000. So I wrote a poem about Asian American men, praising Asian American men. Anyway, so that's Stone Bow Prayer.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AU: Now there's a big jump... well, there's a lot of jumps in there. '98 to 2005, that was seven years. And then from 2005 to 2015, a ten year jump, but then I had two books published consecutively by Red Hand Press. So my fourth book is The Yellow Door. Oh, let me back up. I never showed Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain, that's the second book. I considered The Yellow Door sort of an update and extension of 30 Miles From J-Town, because the themes really are three quarters Asian American, and the other quarter maybe references to Asia and Japan. It's kind of my own version of Yellow Power. I wrote my Yellow Power paper as a college senior while I was trying to put kind of the feeling of Yellow Power in this book. And the first poem is called "Riding the Yellow Dragon," and it includes talking about Gidra and some of my favorite Asian American writers. I'm trying to think what else is in here. Oh, one thing I don't think I'd mentioned to you about some of the poems that seemed to be rooted in some knowledge of Japan, like the last section of The Yellow Door really has a lot more references to Japan. And I've only been to Japan four times, each either a one- or two-week vacation spread out over many years. So you know, that's really not knowing Japan that well, and, of course, I didn't go to Japanese school, I didn't speak the language, and I only had the one grandpa who spoke English to us about Japan. Well, he didn't even talk about Japan. So I sometimes wonder where am I getting the sense that I've been there, and this is what I know about rock or stone or pine tree, as if I'd been there. And this, I don't know if other people believe in this kind of thing, but I've heard the concept "racial memory" and if such a thing exists, I thought that I'm still basically generations and generations of someone from Japan, and if there is something called racial memory, then yeah, that's in here, even though I'm a third generation in America, there's still that racial memory. Because sometimes I look at a poem I've written that sort of has that Japanese feeling, and I'm thinking, "Where did this come from?" And the other thing I think I've noticed is these types of poems I think also were set loose when I worked with Peter in the workshops, because Peter's workshops weren't just poetry per se. Peter's a zen poet/priest, but he'd been with Zen Buddhism since his twenties. So our weekly meetings would always include opening talks by Peter. It might be a poetry subject, but he would expand it to something spiritual, or something Buddhist in nature. And I'm sure my hearing years of these kinds of talks had some impact on me.

BN: Before you leave The Yellow Door, I wanted to ask you about a number of... there's kind of a section of poems seemly inspired by Roger Shimomura paintings, and I wanted to ask you about that, how you discovered those paintings and what led to those pieces.

AU: I didn't know Roger Shimomura, but a number of years ago, I guess he knew Russell Leong, who's also an L.A. poet. Shimomura was looking for Asian American poets who could write... I'm trying to remember if it was haiku or short lines to go with some little constructed pieces he'd made. Like one of them was a big banana with slanted eyes, you know, the stereotype pieces. And so Russell asked if I would like to contribute to that, and I said sure. So I did whatever I did with them, and Roger liked, I guess, my writing. And so when he came out with one of his gallery exhibits in Seattle, it was a lot of his pieces from Minidoka. Well, I think he was at Minidoka. I wish I had the book here. But you know, you get those books when you go to an exhibit, they give you the books that describe the painter and this and that. He actually asked me to write the intro in that book. So Roger and I have a friendship, and I always enjoy looking at his artwork, and he sent me a lot of his stuff. It's so just right there. It's in your face, you can't deny it, there's a lot of humor, but it's cutting, it's very cutting, and he's protesting the stereotypes. So that's my connection with Roger, never met in person.

BN: And then that book also has some poems, I think, inspired by woodblock prints, Hokusai prints, and I also wanted to ask you about that, if that's... are you a fan of the woodblock prints?

AU: Yeah, I love woodblock prints. I've seen the process and I'm just amazed that people could even put these things out. I think my attraction sometimes to looking at things visually and then writing a poem does go back to my childhood. Because as a young girl, I would sketch constantly and wanted to be a fashion designer. So I would sketch the woman and then do the outfit on her and then another outfit. At that time, I think they had paper dolls. I don't know if they still did, Valerie, when you were growing up, but there were paper doll sets where you'd have the main model, but then you have different outfits you put on there, and you kind of clip it down with paper, anyway. But I used to do a lot of that. So I never became a fashion designer, but there's something in me that I think is coming from the same place. I like to collect Japanese paper or other specialty papers, and I take those and I like to make custom cards that I send to my friends. And I find that's a really relaxing activity for me. I lose track of time, and it's visual, it's just visual. So I think in some way that's tied, too, maybe. My interest in Hokusai or Shimomura's work or even other painters.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

BN: Yeah, so unless there's other questions on Yellow Door, maybe you could continue to the second book, or the one that came right after, Basic Vocabulary.

AU: So this is Basic Vocabulary, and those are supposed to be drones if you don't know what they are. Because I have a feeling some people wouldn't know they were drones. This book, the main... well, I think the main ingredient of this book is the title poem by the same name, "Basic Vocabulary." Because this is one of the longest poems I've written, it's got thirty-five sections, and it is an antiwar poem. And it has sort of an interesting backstory. I saw an article by a linguist who said there are essentially thirty-five words in every major human language, or something like that, and then they gave the list of words. And that kind of really got me interested, those words. And so I took the words, and then it became a project, is try to write a poem with those words. So that's the major piece in here followed by quite a few other pretty heavy hitting political poems, or one that's really against the use of drones by the United States. I called that poem "They're Called Mosquitos." I wrote a poem that is actually very mathematical even though I was writing it in the style of Juan Felipe Herrera, had written a poem called "Fuzzy Equations," and I used the format which was either saying something equals something or less than or greater than. I used all those ideas in talking about the political landscape of the time. So that was kind of fun to write for this book. I also have some prose poems in here which were a little different for me.


AU: Basic Vocabulary also has a whole section kind of dedicated... well, it's called "the necessity for stone," so here we go on the stones. [Laughs] And I also had gone through a bout with breast cancer in 2010, so the last session of this book has the title "Mysteries: Medical and Celestial." So I talk about my breast cancer in several of the poems, and then I also talk about ideas like infinity or looking up at the stars with my grandson, topics like that. And it also includes a poem based on our visit to China back in 2013. My husband and I went to China and Tibet, and in Tibet we got to see a place called the Jokhang Temple. And people were coming there and doing a pilgrimage, very, very moving. So that ended up as a poem in this book. So it's interesting, I find some of my most extreme political pieces are here as well as some of my most extreme, the other direction spiritual pieces, kind of interesting. Do you have other questions for Basic Vocabulary?

VM: Brian, is this a good time to return to the question about spirituality or would that be better later? Amy, since you brought it up, one question is, because there is such a, I mean, your first book wins this major prize set up by the Nicholas Roerich Foundation, which is, and he was a mystic. And there is this thread throughout your books of spirituality. And I was wondering if, or we were wondering if you could talk about the evolution, your own spiritual evolution through these books, and perhaps with regard to, perhaps, vis-�-vis Buddhism?

AU: Yeah. I don't think there's any way it's not a result of my working with Peter Levitt and his workshop for fifteen years. Spring, summer and autumn, right? Sitting in there in these sessions and hearing talks about spirituality and Buddhism. I didn't get to the point of some of my fellow poets in the class started to meditate with Peter. So I never did that, I don't meditate, but I think I've been very affected just by the, there's a certain tone of compassion and awareness that I think I've learned from being around Peter and these other people that are Buddhists, they are Buddhists. And one of the things that really applies both to life and also to writing a poem, is to really pay attention to what you're doing at this moment. How can you really enjoy it and savor it, and realize that whole experience, if you're not giving your full attention to that thing. So Peter would talk about that in terms of if you're eating dinner or writing a poem. The same kind of idea, it needs the attention. And once you give it that attention then the eyes see so much more. It opens out and opens in, everything gets bigger. I don't know, does that sound Buddhist? [Laughs] I did marry -- you know, my ex-husband was a Buddhist, so when I got married in 1970, it was at the West L.A. Buddhist Temple, but he never tried to teach me Buddhism.

VM: Thank you. Because that was such a strong thread and maybe we can move back to the next book?

BN: Yeah. Well, actually, before, I wanted to ask one other question with this one, too, and actually in, was it the one right before? Or a couple books before, where you start to write about aging and about, as you mentioned, about your cancer diagnosis and so forth. I'm just wondering, are there aspects of your own life that you, I don't know, are off limits? Or is there any sort of self-censorship going knowing that this is going to be read by a lot of people? I mean, how do you approach these kinds of very private sorts of issues?

AU: Interesting. I didn't have problems writing poems about my cancer experience in 2010. I didn't have any problems seeing that in a book. In fact, it seemed to make sense at the time. But I wouldn't say that I would talk about absolutely everything. There are some things I may be shy about, especially when it involves other people, and I would tend not to write about it, or that might be something that ends up in the journal, but not in a published poem.

BN: Or do you write poems about them and just don't publish them?

AU: That's happened just a few times, just a few.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

BN: But yeah, unless Valerie has something, we can move on to the next one.

AU: Oh, move on to my last book? Okay, so this book came out in March or April of this year, 2022. So it was accepted for publication either a year or a year and a half ago. No, it was more than that, more like two years ago. Because when this was accepted for publication, I didn't know about my breast cancer reoccurring. So it's kind of scary in a way to see That Blue Trickster Time when time seems to be something that's become a primary consideration for me now that I have stage four breast cancer. But the book, all through the pandemic I was doing lots of writing. So this book reflects that. It has poems about the pandemic, a lot of poems that are critical of Trump, poems about the rise in anti-Asian violence and Americans going after, randomly going after Asian Americans, because they're saying we caused it. So I have more current poems like that, and I have a whole section at the beginning that I consider old women poems because I am. When I wrote this book, I was in my, probably early '70s maybe, when I wrote the manuscript. So I am an old woman, and I am seeing things a little differently than I did thirty, forty years ago. But speaking of old women, that's been kind of a thing, too, in many of my books because I would have old women, gee, in 30 Miles From J-Town, there were old women, especially some, there were either Issei grandmothers or like women I'd see on the highways of Mexico when we'd go on vacation. You know, like poor native Mexican women, like that. The second book, too, I'm trying to think, some of my other books carry on the old woman theme or in terms of my just getting older. But one of the things that I used to think was weird was I'd have an old woman in a lot of my dreams. I tend not to remember my dreams, but for some reason I remembered these dreams at the time. I think I was in my forties, and this old woman long, white hair. She was very ethnic, and she'd be dancing, and she'd be on top of the car, and she ended up in two or three of my poems. And I think she still even comes up. Like one of my poems is called "Sister Muse," and about something called a "feminine woman creative power." I think the old woman is still there, and what's kind of, I guess this is also true, is that old woman is me now. I used to talk about older women as someone a generation younger. But now, I'm here, I'm in my seventies. So that's the first section of the book. The other big, big poem for me in this book is my "36 Views of Manzanar." And this was a project that I think took two or three years to write. I've always loved Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, and had decided that I wanted to try to write some sort of poem and something about Japanese Americans, but using Thirty-six Views. So some of those views did end up in those longer poems that we've talked about in other books. But this going to be focused more for my own very limited knowledge of Manzanar because I was born after camp, the Uyematsus' didn't talk all that much about it. So what I started to do was to do research, or if I saw something in the Rafu, things here and there, I would just jot it down thinking, hey, I may be able to use this in this project, in my "36 Views" poem. So that's sort of how that occurred. Bits and pieces, I know I listened to my aunt Mare's interview, I think she was interviewed for some organization. But little bits here and there, and then finally you've got, I think I had more than thirty-six things, but I had to narrow it down to, okay, what are the best thirty-six, and then how am I going to sequence it? And then I got this long poem. So that long poem and the antiwar poem in Basic Vocabulary, those are the two that really did take years to write.

This book also has its own Asian American section, and I've got the camp story about my grandfather and dad when they got a permit to leave camp. I've got a poem about Dad dancing, because he was a really good dancer. And he and my mother, the Nisei would go to dances after the war. And "Little Tokyo Haiku," which is sort of my view of how Little Tokyo has changed. And one of the poems I like to perform a lot, because it rhymes and people get a kick out of it is "Love-In for Jeremy Lin," which... who can't love Jeremy Lin? [Laughs] And then another piece I feel very strongly about in the book is called "Dear Lawson," and it talks a lot about Lawson visiting our early Asian American Studies class, that would be about 1971 or '2, and how much it just impressed me. And I talk a little bit about what I know about him and his writing, and just looking up to him, so just kind of honoring him.

VM: Has Lawson, did you send him that poem? Has he responded to it?

AU: Yeah, he's seen it, he likes it.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

BN: One thing I wanted to ask you -- this is more of a process question -- is just how, what your writing process is. I mean, are you more of an opportunistic, "Oh, I have this idea, let me write this," or are you more of a, okay, from nine to twelve tomorrow, I'm going to sit down? And then how, if any, has that process sort of changed over time?

AU: My style is kind of more random/"good student." When I was in workshops and knew I had an assignment due every week, I would be sure to have something. So I always produced at least one new poem if not more. I seem to respond well to deadlines. But otherwise, I'm completely undisciplined at sort of a random, as you said, opportunistic. A lot of times I might see a topic or hear a line or see something visually, and it will stick with me, and I know it's going to turn into a poem. Sometimes it's that strong. Sometimes words will come into my head, and if they do, as soon as I can get close to just a little piece of paper or something, a napkin, something to scribble on, I'll write it down in case I forget. Like a lot of times I might get ideas while I'm walking which isn't that good. I guess maybe there are ways you could keep it on your phone, but I don't, so I try to remember it. It sounds kind of random, huh, the process? [Laughs] As to whether it's changed over the years, I don't think so. I'm still... yeah, I don't think so.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

VM: Since you brought up the issue of the workshops, I was wondering if I could ask a question about your creative writing workshops as a teacher at the Far East Lounge, and I don't know if you were teaching specifically poetry or creative writing more broadly. I was wondering if you could tell us about how teach poetry or how you teach creative writing.

AU: Wow. That class, gee, I think we lasted about five years and then the pandemic hit. But we actually, a few of us are still meeting by Zoom, which is pretty remarkable. It was supposed to be, whether you call it creative writing, writing, whatever. It was a class intended for beginning writers, and because I know poetry, I basically taught it the way I've also taught creative writing while I was at Grant High School. What I would do is I would bring in work for people to read, and we might read it out loud, talk about it. For our particular workshop, let me think back, okay. For our own little workshop at Little Tokyo Lounge, we actually did a different agenda, now that I think about it. We started with quotes. Quotes or announcements. Announcements we might have to make to each other, and quotes, so people could bring in one or two quotes by famous people. They don't have to be writers, they could be anything, or maybe a quote they saw on the newspaper, so we do that. And then we would look at new work, look at something I had brought in for writing, and then we would look at the students' work. And because it's a beginners workshop, my effort is to try to be as encouraging as possible for people. Because for some of them it really is something new to get things down on paper. And it was also sometimes a little hard to juggle because all the writers weren't at the same level. So that makes it more difficult when you've got some that are pretty advanced and could, one woman could be in a different kind of setting as opposed to our setting. So I think we'd become kind of a family, a collective of women. And even though we had writing in common, there was also a common passion for the Asian American community, and many of the members were active in different organizations or at JANM, so there was always that kind of unifying bond between us when we'd meet. So it's kind of hard to separate it as, oh, you guys are writers? Because it was more than that.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

VM: I was thinking about how you talk about, you have a poem which talks about, the poem about Lawson, and you mentioned his assignment to all of you young activists to write poems using certain buzz words and how you all ran out and did that. I'm wondering what kind of, do you give similar assignments, or what kind of assignments have you given to your students?

AU: I've given all kinds of assignments. I mean, whether it was writing a haiku, whether it's a particular topic, lots of different things. But the running joke in the workshop is that most of the people do their own thing and don't do the assignment. [Laughs] Which is okay with me. Because as long as you're writing something, that's great. That's always my thing, is, "Are you writing?" "Are you writing?" So even if it's just journal writing.

VM: And may I ask which poets you have introduced your students to? Because you have a wide range of background.

AU: You know, I'd bring in my favorites. So I would say I'd bring in mostly writers of color, poets of color. You know, occasionally other groups, but that's really my own passion. And a lot of people, I think, sort of have similar views about that, because we're all nonwhite. Right now we're currently one Chinese American and the rest of us Japanese American.

VM: So are you introducing them to some of your old favorites like Lucille Clifton or Juan Felipe Herrera, or are you also introducing them to new or more recent works?

AU: I try to do both. Well, I did while I was teaching. This is before the pandemic, and we were meeting in person. I would try to do a wide range of poets for them. And it got a good response. I think they were happy to be exposed to people that they otherwise wouldn't know about.

VM: And how do you keep up with... I mean, there's lots of poetry out there. How do you keep up and keep your finger on the pulse? What outlets or magazines or websites, how do you keep up?

AU: I don't keep up, I don't. So I've really never been part of a tight-knit poetry community per se. Maybe if I were, everyone would be talking about, oh yeah, you got to read this book, you got to read that book. But that hasn't been my experience. I've been in my Far East Lounge collective, but then I'm the teacher in that group. And then I have another group I work with, and they were all former students of Peter, and we critique each others' work. But we're not talking about other poetry books. So I subscribed to Poets and Writers, and maybe just through the grapevine, some of my friends had published books. So of course when traci kato-kiriyama's book came out, I was going to get that. Sesshu, I always try to get Sesshu's books.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

BN: One thing I wanted to ask you about is you wrote about doing some readings with Taiji Miyagawa, who's a jazz bass player. And there's definitely a musicality to a lot of your pieces. And I wondered how that came about and how that went and how the reaction to that was.

AU: I don't remember the exact event where Taiji and I met, but I associate him with UCLA in the... this would have been maybe in the late '80s. Because by the time my book came out, I knew him well enough to ask if he would accompany me at my book reading for 30 Miles, which was at JANM. So I've been lucky to have Taiji accompany me for every book except the current book. And maybe that'll happen, too, who knows? But it's just been great. I mean, he's just a very interesting person to know, a wide wealth of knowledge, so a lot of times we're just gabbing away on this and that. And then when we get to the poems, he decides musically what kind of melody or background he feels will go with that piece, and then he'll try it out. And I think he goes home, and he tapes me, and I think, too, he practices different things at home where he hears me reciting the poem when he does it. Besides it just being nice to get together with Taiji, I think he's helped my performance over the years. Because he can make suggestions about pacing, slowing down, going faster in some places, things like that, that make the reading more effective. And I think, I hope I picked up some of those things over the years.

BN: Does that collaboration actually influence your writing? Are you sometimes thinking about that performance as you write?

AU: No, because usually the collaboration comes... when I have a reading set up, Taiji's going to be coming, and I show him the poems we're going to be doing. So he takes those poems and then comes up with these ideas of how to play with it. And I like his, how he chooses to accompany me. And sometimes he might be using his bow, other times he just might be tapping the body of the bass. So it's interesting.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

BN: Do you have, like, a short number or small number of favorites among all your poems, or are you like the mother of many children who refuses to choose between them?

AU: Sometimes my favorite poem might be the one that I just finished writing. Sometimes it could be that. But I generally, I don't have favorites. Some of the poems that would be up there, I mean, if I were to categorize, are what I call gifts. I've written some poems and it came to me, I write it down, blah, blah, I get it on paper. And later on I'd look at it and I was thinking, who wrote that? Where did this thing come from? This doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's a pretty nice feeling. I mean, it's weird, but it's also very nice. It's kind of like, wow, that's a present. [Laughs] What else did you ask on that question?

BN: No, that was, you answered it.

AU: I feel like I start going off on a tangent or something and I forget what you asked me.

VM: No, you answered, and it does sound like a, kind of a divine inspiration, as a gift.

AU: Oh, I know, you were talking about favorites. Okay, I can talk a little more about this, about my favorite poems. I don't know whether you'd call it favorite, but satisfying would be those two long poems, "Basic Vocabulary" and "36 Views of Manzanar." Those were satisfying to me. And I've got a couple of poems that are kind of love poems or flirty poems to my husband, Raul, but those maybe are among my favorites.

VM: Well, since you have been, you have had this really fascinating career, you've also mentored a lot of, you've had great mentors and you've also been a mentor and are still mentoring people who are beginners. And we were wondering what advice would you give to young poets who were starting or aspiring poets starting now?

AU: What advice? Just a minute, I wrote down some things. Well, okay. First, you need to learn how to be true to your own voice. Sometimes new writers try to sound like someone else, or are afraid of being themselves. But you know, trust your own voice. I think it's really important to read other poets and to also hear other poets perform their poems. Revision is really key. For me it is, anyway. So my writing process, I tend to get everything out on the paper. Whatever is driving that feeling, get it down, typing away. And then I go away from it. And then when I come back the next day or days later, then it's revision. And some poems take one or two revisions, others take countless revisions. As to when do you feel it's done, I think... sometimes I don't know if you ever feel done. You might always feel like, oh, I could have done something more, or I could have done something more there. Another thing I'd say to young poets would be it's okay to get rejections, it really is okay. And if you look at biographies of so many well-known writers, they've had all kinds of rejections in their writing journeys, so don't let that discourage you. Another thing is if you're in a workshop or class, be sure you're in the right environment for you. Because I've been in workshops, or I've seen people in workshops where the teacher or whatever, facilitator, just didn't know how to give feedback. Might have been negative or whatever. It's okay for someone to be critical, but there's a way to do it, a way of getting criticism. And you kind of have to know in your gut, is this good for me? Is this helping me? Or no, no, no, maybe I should be in a different setting. Other advice. Other advice would be back to the idea of Buddhism and spirituality: slow down, pay attention, focus, really just look at something. And then just back to the idea of, just trust yourself. Because you know everybody has a unique voice. One of the reasons I felt so strongly about the workshop I had with Peter Levitt was, he in his own right was a very strong writer, poet. If there were ten of us in the room, so nine students and Peter, his feedback to each student was so customized, so unique and appropriate for that person, that none of us sounded alike. You could hear each person's genuine true voice. So that's what you're trying to find as a new writer.

VM: Wow, that's wonderful advice, thank you.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

BN: I mean, I don't really have much else. I mean, I think that's actually a good place to end unless you've got other things you want to ask, Valerie? Or Amy, if there's anything we haven't covered that you'd like to talk about.

AU: Oh, there is something I was thinking about when you asked about my turning to poetry, was I'd often get the question, "You're a math teacher and you write poetry?" And, of course, I told you I didn't have the background of poetry classes and all that that a lot of my peers have that are writing poetry. I didn't have that background. Okay, now I lost my train of thought again. What was I... what did I start saying to you?

VM: We had asked if there, Brian had asked if there was anything you would like to add, and you mentioned that people were surprised that you, a math teacher, were also a poet.

AU: Okay. Mathematics really is about simplifying, really simplifying things to the basic core. And I think poetry does the same thing, the kind of poetry I write. I really enjoy writing short poems like haiku, but really distilling things, getting down to as few words as possible. And then poetry is musical, and I think mathematics is musical, too. So I don't see any problem with math and poetry being side by side. And, in fact, I don't think I've mentioned this to you, I've worked with a group of mathematician poets, and many years ago, I attended one of their conferences. It's called Bridges, and these were math professors. The conference was in Coimbra, Portugal. And so I got invited -- of course, I had to pay my own way -- but my husband and I said, hey, this will be a good way to get us to Spain, which we'd always wanted to see. So we actually created a wonderful vacation between Portugal and going through Spain. But anyway, this group of poets, they've been meeting now for several years, and they publish math poems. They put out a yearly anthology, which I've been part of several times, and it's just kind of cool. Math and poetry. [Laughs]

VM: Have some of your, the poems in your books appeared in these anthologies? I mean, is there a crossover?

AU: Yeah. They have printed several of my poems.

VM: Forgive me, I have another question and it's math-related, so this is perfect. And I did enjoy your math poems in the different books. My mother, when I was telling my mother about -- and she's also read some of your poetry -- she said, "What kind of math does she teach?" And I knew we hadn't asked you, because there are so many kinds of math. You know, in algebra, in calculus, so I wondering if you could say what kinds of math you have taught.

AU: Sure. I taught everything from basic math through pre-calculus, which is, you know, trig, higher level algebra, a variety of topics, but pre-calculus topics. I never taught calculus because I felt that I needed to go back and take calculus again myself if I wanted to teach it, and I really, by that time, I was into raising my son, working full time, trying to go to poetry classes. So I didn't want to go back and study calculus. So anyway, I taught a wide range. I taught everything from the really rowdy classes to the gifted classes. And at Venice, I would get groups of kids that couldn't pass the state exam, and I was one of the few teachers on staff that was willing to teach these kids. A lot of them were gang kids, but they were kids that had probably always failed their classes coming up, and they hated, hated math. I don't really know if they're taking the class with me, what kind of test results they got. I never was able to see that kind of feedback, it'd be interesting. But what I did see of them was really highly intelligent kids with street smarts, they just weren't book smart. And I taught lots of honors-level gifted classes, and I put many of those gang kids, the very same intelligence level as other kids, they were smart. Well, that was interesting, because outsiders have such rigid views of them.

BN: Yeah, I think that's about all I have. So yeah, thank you very much, this was great. I'm so glad we were able to spend the, almost a full session on the poetry, which we wouldn't have been able to do had we stretched it out last time. So I'm really happy we were able to do this.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.