Tamiko Beyer is one of those poets I like to stalk. And she is highly stalkable, appearing here and there, now in an anthology I’m judging, now at a conference, now participating in, organizing, or attending a reading, now in a link from a link of a link. The plethora of journals in which she has appeared defy easy categorization. Prolific and spread hydra-like about the poetasphere she floats, and I like to surf about, casting my net for her latest adventures, preferably while listening to Susana Baca.
Is it terribly vain to say that I first began to google her most regularly after once googling myself? She’d done an analysis of a poem of mine at her Kenyon Review blog and was much smarter about it than I’d been in the actual making of it. Before then, I knew who she was, didn’t everybody? She was everywhere, listening, making work, running workshops, and now I began her track her more closely. She left Brooklyn for St Louis, but came back soon, thank goodness, not that her work let up while she was away. Not that location much matters for someone who clearly lives in multiple dimensions. How else to explain how she writes so much and pops up in so many places? And works with so many different people, teaching workshops, students of different ages, collaborating with other artists, and writing about other writers. I think there is more than one Tamiko, like right now I am looking for my favorite poem from bough breaks, her chapbook published earlier this year, and I can’t find it. I think it might have been written in another dimension and left there. It is a poem in multiple choice, smart and vulnerable and touching and I am really mad I can’t find it (but then again, my progressive lenses haven't come in yet). Her poems are prose-y, and in case you haven’t noticed I have a prose-y preference.
In her statement about her poems for Poets for Living Waters, she writes: “I want to know if/how my poetry can blur the boundaries between inside and outside (waters), enact the fluidity across the earth and between bodies. And always, I want to dissolve the separation of poet/citizen/activist. Can ((sub)alter(n)ed) language spur a rush, a flow to action? Claudia Rankine, paraphrasing Myung Mi Kim, says “what alerts, alters.” Alert alert alert.”
A: quoting Claudia Rankine paraphrasing Myung Mi Kim. Swoon.
Her new book, bough breaks, interrogates gender, motherhood, conception and circumscription (yes, I do mean the limits of a taxonomic group of organisms) across terrains and cities (New York, Honolulu, Tokyo), creating a diaspora of maternity, the inside-out of an always present code:
dear malarial mosquito-bitten arm dear burned dear earthquake rubble-crushed, I have no steady answers I wake up every single morning dear corner drug deal, I have been around dear hunger after ten days dear shredded dear child soldier dear drive-by stray, you are the stuff of voices and I keep waking and you keep showing up and I keep showing up dear repeated gesture of hand to open mouth again and again I pretended not to see until the last day I gave a piece of fruit dear abducted dear bloated belly dear cancerous marrow, some of us are brave and the question is which ones dear taunted, the question is how would I protect you dear institutional bed dear praying for his hand to stop dear rat-chewed ear, I keep waking you keep showing up how brave will we be dear drunk before menstruation dear beaten nightly,
Creepily conscious and surprising, the voice in the poem implicates itself in the traffic of misery and hope. This poem both freaks me out and touches me. Alert.
Beyers' Kenyon Review blog is a rich compendium of thoughtful musings on everything from nature to the prison industrial complex to the Transgender Day of Remembrance, embodying both passion and compassion. She just has a way of saying things about huge issues that we should be screaming about that don't make you feel yelled at, but like doing something. On the Doveglion Press blog, Beyer writes compellingly of a "queer eco-poetics":
"A queer::eco::poetics rides the transformative power of the erotic while resisting and interrupting tired gendered portrayals of earth-mother-goddess nature. In a queer::eco::poetics gender and eros shift and transform continually. Sex and the erotic are integral to, but do not solely define, a queer::eco::poetics."
When she puts it that way, who can refuse to join the party?
B: Speaking of alterity, poetry, citizenry, motherhood and activism, just two weeks ago, Susana Baca, the other hero of our story, was made Minister of Culture of Peru, the first person of African descent to hold such a high post in the country. About her latest album Afrodiaspora also released in 2011, Baca writes, “I have traveled to many places where Afro Descendants live in Latin America, many of them poor and forgotten places, neglected and excluded by governments where there is a social exclusion but at the same time I feel that they have a spiritual strength to express the African presence. So I try to sing songs from these places, even though I left out a lot. I celebrate the shared blood and the way that the African presence has influenced Latin America.” I always associate Baca with motherhood, perhaps because she looks like she could be my mother, or because my mother sang to me, or because the night I was at her concert in Lincoln Center was the night of the crisis that brought my adopted daughter to live with me.
Baca has recently begun collaborations with other Afrolatino artists, including poets and reggaeton's Calle 13. Here is one of her more traditional songs, "Valentin."
Here's to the poet/activist/citizen/mothers/trangressors/interdimensional travelers of the world. Pa'lante!