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Process Profile: Tamiko Beyer Discusses “In this metropolis”

2010 May 26
by Iris

Tamiko Beyer

Tamiko Beyer’s poetry has appeared in The Collagist, Sonora Review, OCHO, and elsewhere. She serves as the poetry editor of Drunken Boat and has led writing workshops for homeless LGBT youth with the New York Writers Coalition. She is a founding member of Agent 409: a queer, multi-racial writing collective, and is a Kundiman Fellow. She is pursing her M.F.A at Washington University in St. Louis. Find her online at wonderinghome.com and blogging at kenyonreview.org.

In our Process Profiles series, young contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication.  Here, Tamiko discusses her poem “In this metropolis,” which first appeared in The Progressive in February 2008.

* * *

I think it was April. I was writing a poem a day and running out of ideas. I turned to Charles Bernstein’s Experiments and chose the first one: a “homolinguistic translation,” a translation from English to English. I chose to “translate” Ilya Kaminsky’s poem “A Toast” because I was obsessed with his book Dancing in Odessa and wanted to live in one of his poems for a while.

The result: a whole new realm of diction. And a tone of contemplative urgency from Kaminsky’s poem that infused itself into my own, even when I eventually let go of the constraint.

Themes of home and community (ones I return to again and again) also echo from the source poem. Early on, it became clear to me that I was writing about gentrification. Living in a dynamically shifting part of Brooklyn, I am hyper-aware that what I do and how I spend my money isn’t just about me. There are ramifications across the neighborhood. I would have never set out to write a poem quite like this in tone and voice, but the exercise brought out a persona that gave me a strange kind of permission to push hard into this reality.

The finished poem was published in The Progressive, which meant that people who didn’t even know I am a poet read it. To me, this is not a particularly “easy” poem, so it was meaningful to hear how it resonated with folks. One acquaintance emailed me to say that she opened the magazine and, “there in poetry is the story of my neighborhood.”

This – poetry that works at the unexpected intersections of language and the stuff of our daily lives/struggles – this is the kind of poetry that is most important to me. I felt lucky that it happened in this poem.

Below is the published version of “In this metropolis.”

In this metropolis

The street elongates
a tenebrous tongue, spectacle
its declared unit: this pre-war
one bed–

A teenager shoots
hoops in the schoolyard,
double-crossed by MTV
and having missed

the getaway car, thunderous
souped-up engine revving
through the up
and coming neighborhood
. Ring

tone of the hour:
the last easy
breaths of a sleeping child
in a flame-licked building.

*

In this metropolis, rain transforms
thin trees into bistros festooned
with tea lights whose flames
scintillate across papers

with headlines that call the deluge.
Champagne flutes raised
A toast! A toast!
the real-estate agents loosen

their ties, slip off
black pumps and stretch toes bound
up in flesh stockings.
The b-boys and b-girls crank it:

out for one last tagging, the looped
word, all the bursting smells –
the gentry are coming
on steeds and silks aflutter –

wrap up your blistered hand, Ma,
the yellow and red coffee can, afternoons
of long, slow stories – these floorboards
will tell their weight in gold…

here we go here we go here we go –

come spectacle come floods.

[Originally published in The Progressive, Volume 72, Number 2, February 2008].

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