Tiffany & Yuki Transcript!

Tyler

In the first segment we’re going to be chatting with Wordier Than Thou founder Tiffany. Wordier Than Thou is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting writers and readers in the Tampa Bay area and throughout the state of Florida. We will talk to Tiffany about literary haunted houses, supporting local writers and getting over a fear of public speaking. In the second segment, we will be talking to a recent wordier reader Yuki Jackson. Yuki is a poet and also the founder of the battleground which mixes poetry and martial arts. We are going to be talking to her about poetry, Buddhism, and drag queens, of course. I mean, why not? Always?

Gramel 

On my birthday I went to see remember the boom boom room.

Tyler

The chicka boom room? Yeah, I forgot that was your birthday?

Gramel 

Yeah, it was your mother’s. His mom was born on my birthday. So we both went.

Tyler

So we’ll be talking about that. Well, not about going to the room. This is a really, really good episode.

Gramel 

It’s so great that she’s working with young people and she’s did she should be admired.

Tyler

In the first segment, we are going to talk to Tiffany about developing a literary community, her experiences as a working writer, and what’s next for this nonprofit.

Tiffany 

I’m a native New Yorker. I’m from Long Island. Now, I spent most of my life there. I was living in Riverhead. And I was working at a newspaper in the Hamptons I worked for it was called Dan’s papers out there. And it was, it was kind of cool. It was one of those like, very quirky Hamptons kind of institutions sort of things. And it was founded by by Dan, on his, you know, kitchen table when he was like 20 or 21 years old, something like that, about 50 or so years ago at that point. So, you know, everybody knew Dan and everybody knew that, you know, knew that publication and I just remember one time we were, we had an editorial meeting in our building. We were talking about whatever Dan’s talking about, and then we get a phone call. The assistant at the time answering the phones was like, Alec Baldwin’s on the phone for you. And he just sort of like, very annoyed and leaned back arm behind his head, like, ah, Tell him I’ll call him back. Come back two minutes later, she’s like, he wants to know if you have his phone numbers. And he’s like, fine, I’ll take the call it. He just goes and like takes his phone call from Alec Baldwin who wanted extra copies of the paper because his daughter was in her school play and we had pictures in there somewhere.

I couldn’t even afford to live in the community that I was covering. Actually, I lived in like, a trailer park on the outskirts of the Hamptons with like, mostly like Eastern Europeans living in it. It was a very interesting kind of place to be living, but I was always like, Where am I living and who am I covering?

And I moved here to Tampa Bay area about 10 years ago. My parents came here first so my dad is in Spring Hill. My mom is in want to say like new port, Richey Port Richey, oh, I always mix them up. So when I first moved here, I was living in Spring Hill and it was awful. When I first moved down here, I didn’t really have anything going on and I was kind of doing that thing like, Oh, I guess maybe I’ll be here for a little bit and then I’ll leave. And I honestly thought I’d go to somewhere, you know, I’d go to like Asheville or something. So I worked a few different places to be about two years to get to the newspaper. Just there weren’t a lot of newspaper jobs. So I wrote for Creative Loafing for a little bit just to kind of keep active in journalism and I was there LGBT blog editor for a little bit. I worked for HSN as a copywriter for a couple of years that worked for the Nielsen company for a little bit to overnight their company that they sent that like box into your home to like, record what you’re watching the weird things in Florida, but I think everybody has.

Tyler

So that’s really interesting, because I mean, cobbling together work as a writer in this area. It’s a difficult path for a lot of us.

Tiffany 

And at that point, I also didn’t know anybody didn’t have I don’t know, I was just like, I’ll take what I can get. I’m just here doing what I’m doing, trying to make it work. So there was a brief period of time where I worked for Nielsen overnight. And then I worked for HSN part time as a copywriter, product descriptions and stuff like that and all the content that the show hosts would use on the air and all the web descriptions and stuff like that. And I started out writing like jewelry of all frickin things. Seriously, I really don’t understand how I got that job. And, you know, I would work overnight at Nielsen, I’d get out at four or five and then I’d go like sleep in a parking lot. And then I’d go work part time at HSN a few days. Eventually, friend of mine, their newspaper for hiring, and I started out part time editing their Pinellas Park paper and then eventually I took over the seminal Seminole Beacon. So I was there for about eight years.

Tyler

And then so where did you find time to start Wordier Than Thou?

Tiffany 

I’m not very good at you know, downtime, I think is what that is. And I am a very bad public speaker. I hate it. I mean, you’ve seen me. I used to like cry. I used to just delay, delay, delay, delay, delay, and then we’d get started like hours late and people would be like, what are you doing? Or I’d get just very drunk. I really think part of the reason why I started it was because I was so bad at public speaking that I wanted to get a little bit better at that, especially being maybe invited to speak in front of different I think, had been invited to talk to like a group or rotary club or something like that, and, or even like a children’s classrooms a couple times and those were fairly torturous for me, even how low stakes those are. It was like agony and like anxiety, like forever leading up to it. So I’m like, Alright, well, let me do this thing that maybe helps me get a little bit. It was just very selfish. You know, sometimes things start from a very selfish space, I think.

Tyler

So what kind of events were you first starting to do?

Tiffany 

We were just an open mic series at that point. I think we started out every other every other month and pretty quickly went to a monthly format. You know, there were a lot of open mics going on around here at that point, but nothing that was really the for a format that fit like prose, stories, storytelling. You know, there was a lot of open mic, comedy open mics, a lot of poetry, slam poetry, open mics, a lot of comedy, music, but there really wasn’t anything for longer narratives. And so we kind of were a little a little different in that form. And then eventually we were we were hosting open mics and other cities around the state too, because again, I didn’t know a ton of people here even though I mean it did but I didn’t so I had no problem just like taking off in the middle of the week and going to drive up to Orlando to host an open mic once a month. So we were we were hosting regular events in Sarasota, Orlando and St. Pete for a while Tampa for a little bit to posted stuff up and Gainesville, we’ve gone down to Miami and done stuff before. So now we do most of our stuff in St. Pete, but we’ll go wherever people feel like, feel like that’s cool.

Tyler

It was like a statewide kind of initiative at one point.

Tiffany 

Yeah, a little bit. And it was, it was fun. You know, I didn’t know much about the state at that point. So it’s a good way for me to just go wander around and explore a little bit too. And so now what are some of the events because I know you’ll have a big schedule, what are and you have a conference and stuff like that. So you can can you update us on what you have been doing more recently? And obviously, a lot of this has changed just because of the pandemic, but non pandemic times, like we typically have a publishing conference that’s kind of on the business side of things. You know, I think people know their craft or they know where to find help for that already. But I think what I’ve found is that a lot of writers aren’t that great at, you know, promoting themselves, taking those steps to find an editor or a publisher or you know, anything like that. So, I think I think that’s an area that more information is useful to them. So we kind of try to focus that whole event around the business side of books.

For our read no more haunted house, we rent out a house and go for it. And we staged a short play in each room of the home. So you’re touring like a series of short plays. We just had our fifth year of that one and we launched a haunted Christmas one as well. It’s probably one of my favorites. It’s grown into one of our most popular events. That’s the thing we try to do things that get people out supporting writers in ways that they maybe don’t even stop to think that they’re I know that sounds terrible, but it’s kind of like sneaking vegetables in to like tomato sauce is how I liken it sometimes for the haunted house. We give the stipend to each room to each author. They write their own play the cast throne play and then we on top of them. The stipend we give a portion of ticket sales to each room as well. Try to you know, we’re not making a million dollars here ourselves, but we try our best to always compensate people when we can.

We did a murder mystery for New Year’s Eve. We wrote that and rented a mansion in Tierra Verde. A Gatsby inspired roaring 20s sort of murder mystery. We’re supposed to do another one in September. Who knows if that’s going to happen. I’m hoping it might it’s going to be like an homage to like 80s slasher and some we rented a couple of cabins. I think we might be able to do it just because of the outdoors nature of it. But we’ll see. You take on a character and you play the game in person. We write clues. We write a script we write little staged moments throughout the course of I mean, if it’s something we haven’t read it yet, but I’m assuming it’s gonna be similar to New Year’s Eve. Where we you know, stage different moments. We had some characters of our own that we you know, threw out there into it and Otherwise, people were our guests. You know, they bought a ticket, they received a character upon arrival. And that’s who they were for the night.

Gramel

I went to a private party one time, that you get something like that, now that, you know, I’m thinking back on it, you had to kind of come in costume person that you’re, I have a script, and you kind of make your own script up as you go. But I was thinking, if you did it on zoom or something, it wouldn’t matter. You know, I walk with a cane. But I mean, now people could watch something like that on the computer.

Tiffany

We’ve been thinking about doing something like that over zoom. Just because, again, we don’t know when we can get back to meeting in person anyway.

Tyler

And then I know you all are starting an imprint. You’re publishing some work.

Tiffany

We’re trying to it’s a it was one of those things where I think it just really brought everything we do full circle, in our whole goal has been, you know, working with Florida writers and helping them get their work out there into the world. And, you know, it’s kind of amazing. We’ve seen people come to us with nothing published and, you know, eight years later have, you know, several books out, make moves to, you know, writing fiction full time. And it’s really cool. And obviously, we’re always meeting new writers and having new people kind of come into our world and fall into our fold. And so we started a Florida Writers Project. And that’s kind of going to be our publishing arm of things.

Tyler

Are the opportunities are going to be really very specific to Florida writers or folks who, you know, are Florida connected, like if they lived here for a certain number of time?

Tiffany

We’re not I mean, we’re also not super nitpicky about stuff like that. So we have a few anthologies coming out in the fall. I think you read at the South of the South the last time we posted that event right now. We’re putting an anthology out under that name as well, kind of Florida writers writing about Florida and we expanded it. So it’s not just nonfiction. It’s fiction, poetry and nonfiction, Florida writers just telling Florida stories. Also, we are putting out the debut novel of Heather Jones. She’s a USF instructor, and a good friend of ours and an award-winning playwright here in the area. So it’s funny because she lived up in North Carolina for a long time. So it’s actually like in a Civil War Appalachia story, called Tennessee Murder Ballad. So we’ve been working on that and just trying to figure things out, because I hate fundraising. And I hate asking people for money. But we’re at a point where like, any of the big events that we would have hosted to bring in a little bit of funding to put towards these projects are just not even, you know, we can’t even do we can’t do them. So we’re trying to figure out kind of more different ways to fundraise and promote.

it is supposed to come out in November. We put a book out a while back, the Donald book, it’s hard to do satire now. Reading back and it all sounded so over the top and ridiculous, but it’s not that far off from the, you know, from reality. So, we are, we’re sort of talking about putting out a second, you know, we do have an open, you know, call for submissions right now, for a second version of that. I think it’s probably a little hard to put something like that out right now, though. So I think South of the South and the Heather’s novel are going to be our main priorities.

Tyler

You all have been have made yourself such a presence. I mean, with all these different events and supporting all these other writers. It’s been really necessary.

Tiffany 

I appreciate that. I mean, I think this stuff is kind of like, a little bit like playing for me, it’s fun, it’s creative. It’s my creative work, you know, producing these weird things that, uh, you know, get people excited about supporting local writers at the same time. I feel like all like the best people I know I met through Wordier. So I get a lot out of it. It’s very gratifying, you know, and we’re able to help people, we’re able to help get, you know, readers excited to help get writers feel a little bit reinvigorated about their work and find new ways to, you know, to reach an audience who maybe otherwise wouldn’t go out to a book event, then cool, then we did our job. And, uh, you know, I think the biggest thing has been lately are these Zoom events that we’ve been doing because, you know, we didn’t want to, you know, lose sight of our mission and what we’re trying to do, even if we’re not able to see each other And so I’m awful at technology, but all you do is click a button. So I can handle that.

We’ve been hosting events. I’m gonna say at least six days a week, there was a little while there where we were probably doing it seven days a week. Um, virtual events. It’s been a nice way to reach people. We’ve done everything from like, we did like, tell us about your quarantine program. We’re it’s quite literally like we’ve asked writers to be like to tell us about what they’ve been working on in quarantine. It’s funny, sometimes they turn into little like, just like very earnest conversations and like many therapy sessions, you know, kind of thing. We do these quarantined story times and that’s evolved to originally I was imagining, you know, we’ll just do a reading we’ll get in we’ll get out but it’s really evolved into like, you know, Q&A and people wanting to talk So it’s kind of kind of turned into a little bit more than just like a simple reading. So, you know, I’ll have some questions our readers or listeners will have some questions. We do these home Virtual Library tours when people just show us their books. I think people really like that call it literary voyeurism read people really like snooping a little bit.

Gramel 

I would love somebody to see my bedroom.

Tiffany 

If you want, you’re welcome to do this one weekend if you want.

Gramel 

My bug man one time told me, Margie, you really need to get rid of some of these books. I looked at him like he told me to kill my grandsons or something. Really? No.

Tiffany 

Yeah, no if you want to if you want to do a library tour, let me know.

Gramel 

I get nervous when I’m almost to finish a book. If I get to the last say six chapters. I start searching for the next book that I’m going to read because I want to have one ready to go. I have books that I’m reading now that I never thought I’d be reading, because they were kind of in the back of the stacks.

Tyler

It’s really fascinating to me how the community has adopted and how these events have become so well attended, and also just that people are really needing that space.

Tiffany 

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. And we, you know, I think we did it pretty early on, like, mid-March, people want it, people want to be connected. Yeah. And then I think it’ll make life a little easier. When we are able to go back and person it’ll make that transition easier for us. Having kept that connection going the entire time. And then we’re doing, we’re trying to put together a few like digital reading festivals. So we’re doing, you know, nerdier than now we’re doing a virtual version.

Gramel   

It’s great that, you know, you’re the way you’re going with the punches. People are looking for outlets, and so forth. I appreciate that.

Tyler

Well, thank you for your time.

Tiffany 

Thank you and really, let me know about the library tour if you want to do one down the road. Okay, sounds fun.

Tyler

In the last segment we talked to Tiffany about Wordier Than Thou. And now we’re going to talk to Yuki Jackson, about her poetry, rap music, inspiration, the battleground, mixing poetry with martial arts, working with youth, so much good stuff in here, and she will be giving a reading of her poem and we will be talking about different performance strategies. Oh, and drag queens, how could I forget? It’s about to be that time.

Yuki 

So my summer I am hard at work at my own writing. I’m off this summer. So, you know, I’m teaching at Ringling over this past year, they don’t have classes and you know, usually, for the summer, I would have a bunch of gigs that I would do and like summer teaching for different kids programs and things like that, obviously, right now, that’s not an option. So yeah, I’ve just been kind of taking advantage of this time to do a lot of reading, a lot of writing and, you know, during the pandemic, ironically, I’ve been taking care of my health more in terms of like, you know, usually I was like, on the go, you know what I mean, and then the quarantine sort of is forcing us to be stay put. And so I’ve been like, cooking more and eating more like vegetables and fruits and stuff.

But ironically, also, during this time, where I’ve been more health conscious, I’ve been experiencing some health issues that have surfaced. I’ve been going to the doctor’s few times over the past couple weeks and like radiology appointment the other day and then I’m going back in a couple weeks to follow up and I’m also Like taking the cue from my own body to just like, kind of make it my job right now to take care of my body and my wellbeing during quote unquote normal times, like so hard to kind of focus on our own wellbeing. So that’s my thing right now.

Tyler

And I think you mentioned that in the piece for Creative Loafing. Yeah. Because I think it was talking about meditation practice.

Yuki 

Yeah, so I do a daily practice. It’s like a vocalized meditation. It’s like a phrase that really sort of encapsulates, just like the universal law. You know, it’s like the eternal law of the universe, right? Like, kind of, it’s like the Haiku right of our existence. So yeah, so I chant that in the morning and in the evening, every day. And that just sort of really helps me remember who I am, like, just kind of really helps me to focus especially through using the voice right? I know there’s like silent meditation which I know can be helpful, but to me, there’s something about speaking out because it’s like a physical vibration that you can feel like when you’re saying it over and over. And so that vibration is vibrating, you know that same frequency, everything you know all existence, right? That’s like always vibrating. So there’s something about it that I feel really invigorated by and just sort of helps me to focus on my goals and what I want to accomplish every day.

One of the main goals I have, you know, one is of course, my health and wellbeing but also I’ve been really focusing on my self-esteem. So when I’m chanting I’m consciously also focusing on that and other things as well more concrete, physical things as well but that practice has helped a lot and then in addition to that, a lot of it has been food based. So I’ve been eating more like vegetables and I bought it like a little like a blender making like little green smoothies. You know stuff like that

Tyler

Something that really helped me is getting a slow cooker so I can just put a bunch of vegetables in there with some like olive oil or balsamic come back in a few hours and I have all of this. It’s so easy to prepare During the semester just because things are so hectic, I would literally just buy cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, carrots, I just buy whatever any vegetable throw it in there and then put balsamic vinegar on it. But that way I knew that I was getting at least some vegetables every day because with this semester going on, it’s so hectic. It’s hard to cook for yourself sometimes so slow cooker has definitely helped me.

Gramel 

Has the meditation and the eating more healthfully affected your poetry?

Yuki 

Yeah, no, I love that. It’s all connected right? I think so. For me, and probably for a lot of people, it comes in waves in terms of, so I experienced my creativity in like bursts. So I practice it every day, you know what I mean? So like, regardless of whether I’m like, feeling it or not, I will write and there will be things throughout the day that inspire me that I’ll jot down and, you know, take note of and stuff like that. I realized also my brain kind of work maybe as like a fiction writer. So I don’t know, because I, you know, not that I know what that would be. But it’s like, of course, there’s like individual poems that come to me, but largely, I think in terms of story, even if it’s out of my own life, right, like I see it as the narrative arc, I just see that plot diagram you know, so I write poems, narrative columns, largely now, you know, that helped to tell one narrative arc I would say with my health right now, so it’s ebbs and flows.

So right now, it’s sort of a stage where I am reading a lot kind of aware of my own feelings and thoughts. So I think with this effort to take care of myself, I’ve become more immediately conscious of what it is that I’m thinking or feeling at any moment. And like respecting it, where before when I’m like, you know, kind of ignoring myself, in a sense, I would have these delayed reactions. Like for example, there was like a relationship I was in before like a romantic relationship. If he would say something that hurt my feelings or offended me or what I didn’t do something or whatever it was right, something that hurt me, it would take two or three days for it to even register within myself that that hurt my feelings. You know what I mean? And, I need to say something about it. So then it would be three or four days later I’d be like, Hey, remember what you said three or four days ago that rather and he’s like, oh, why don’t you just say to one, what’s his delayed reaction? And so I think now, you’re right, Margie, like now that I’m more conscious of my, just like respecting myself and conscious of myself. Yeah, it’s like in that moment when I feel like ooh, that little red light, that little siren, that little ticker insides going off even slight disrespect, you know, even if that other person didn’t intend it, but just that it’s something that’s bothering me or I feel is sort of crossing my sense of dignity in any sense. I’m able to in that moment, nip it in the bud.

Gramel 

Amen, amen. I like that. I like that because I think it’s good to be aware that maybe the person doesn’t realize it a little bit. A lot of things roll off with me, but if it’s something really important, I’ll say, Are you not feeling well today? Then they’ll say, oh, okay, then I think as you realize Just what you said. And you know, there’s some people, I’m not gonna say what, they’re kind of thick.

Tyler

You know, it also makes me think about, there was a book about the difference between confrontation and conflicts, and like confronting someone that is being disrespectful to you for your own preservation also builds communication. When we don’t confront things, that’s when conflict happens, because then we’re upset about 20 things. So it can feel uncomfortable to call someone out. But that can help your future relationship, I think, yeah, that really stuck with me about how there’s a difference between confronting someone and actually having a conflict.

Gramel 

Well, I noticed in your poems, which you’re very passionate that you mentioned religion quite a bit. Not, you know, not a lot. Yeah, at some point you don’t get you know where that comes from.

Yuki 

Yeah, I mean, I’ve always been just aware of the profundity or just the fact that our spirit is all tied together, just from like a young age, I’ve always felt very spiritual. Basically, I felt very connected to it, I attribute it to my mother, who it’s interesting because she never forced it upon me. But she would read a lot. And then when, you know, we would go about our everyday lives, she would just always kind of point out certain principles and things that were connected, you know, and made it like made me see how everything is tied to Universal Law and this interconnectedness Something about like how electricity works, you know. It could be anything like even seemingly mundane, but she would always just let this very kind of nonchalant way. Just kind of highlight the spiritual nature of it. To me that way of looking at things is very natural. It doesn’t seem so extraordinary to me. Definitely through my mother, you know, it’s based on my Buddhist practice, which I see the lens through.

And then it’s interesting because in terms of like, I find people usually curious of like, why do I reference Christianity a lot when I’m a practicing Buddhist, they’re like, it doesn’t seem like it connects. But again, for me, it’s through this, you know, this chanting and my Buddhist practice that because it’s focused on the interconnectedness of life, it’s helped me to see and also experienced many things where I see it’s actually all connected. You know, it’s like human beings that have divided right, like, what spirit is, you know, and so anyway, so I just, I see how it’s all connected, and so I’m unable to even separate it on many levels.

Gramel 

I think people try to compartmentalize thing. I think spirit things don’t fit in a box.

Tyler

I noticed that like she was saying religion is a theme. Also, pop culture is a theme and a lot of your work. And I noticed drag race reference in some of your poetry. So what is it about pop culture that you’re speaking to? Or that moves you to kind of use that as a subject?

Yuki 

Yeah, it’s like two levels always. Right. So there’s the subconscious level of how we’re operating. And then the conscious levels, I feel like on a subconscious level, I’m naturally moving to show the interconnectedness of all things. I’m like, these things that seem so sacred or how, you know, maybe some people have put them on this like pedestal, you know, essentially, like marrying the divine and the profane. And for me, it’s like, not even so much in marrying them. It’s like they’re already married. Just like showing that they’re married. It also speaks to the paradox that poetry explores: something that seems so mundane like pop culture and you know, something that could even seem superficial to some people. To me, it’s like, oh, but there’s actually depth and relevance and connection to spirituality. So for me when I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race,

Tyler

We’ve watched it together.

Yuki

Oh, my God, that’s awesome. Yeah, I mean, I’m obsessed. I’m like, I don’t know if I’m categorized as a superfan or whatever.

Tyler

Who is your favorite queen?

Yuki 

I guess who first comes to mind?

Tyler

Same!

Yuki 

I think as a woman and a black woman, as a mixed Asian woman, there’s something about drag queens and culture that is so empowering, you know, to anybody who’s ever felt like disempowered or slighted or you know, in any way or marginalized. To me, the fact that it’s men, you know, men who are celebrating and reveling in femininity, is so revolutionary and so powerful. So I just really attached to that, that whole cannon.

Tyler

So can you describe the battleground – kind of what it is and how long you’ve worked with it?

Yuki

Yeah, so the battleground is something that started back in 2017. And so I was working part time at the Public Library in that neighborhood called Sulphur Springs. I don’t live in that neighborhood, but I was just assigned to work there. And immediately I was really captivated by the neighborhood because even though it’s a, you know, a rough neighborhood in the sense there’s a high poverty rate, there’s a high crime rate. I don’t know, there’s just like something really like magical about that area with there’s like this, this mysterious tower that’s there and this park and these landmarks and this theater, I don’t know, it’s just like super cool, you know. So anyways, I was just working part time at that library was going to grad school, and then, you know, became very attached to the children. Ironically, I didn’t like children before I started working at this library, which is wow, yeah, I did not like kids. I was like, if somebody showed me their kid, I’m like, okay, like, it’s a small human like, I was just never like googoo. gaga. Like, I just developed this very intense love for these children, which was strange for me because again, like I said, I don’t like kids. I think we have a connection. I think there’s just some people of course, I respect every person. But I just, there’s just certain people that you are very, very strongly connected to more than others. Right off the bat. That was my experience with the children.

And then one day, actually over a course of five days in April of 2017, there were three gun shootings right outside our library. Each time we had a lockdown. And each time the person who was shooting and the people getting shot up, were boys under the age of 14. During actually the first lockdown. Yeah, I just had this experience where in my mind, I was planning to have a youth program. You know, it was just like, as it was all happening in my head. It was like, you know, you need to start a youth program name it the battleground. You need to have martial arts, you need to have poetry, it was just all very clear. And immediately after the lockdown stopped, I was like, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m gonna do it, I have to do this. And I went online started researching, you know what to do and started asking for help from advice from different people in the community who already, you know, did programs and whatnot. So yeah, that was the inception, you know of it.

Tyler

And how has it changed since 2017?

Yuki 

Yeah, I mean, in 2017, we weren’t fully going. So it was it’s been going in phases. So first, we had like community support, and I was starting to work on the poetry part with some of the kids. But then we didn’t find the right martial artist until 2018. And he came and you know, he’s perfect for it. So yeah, so we’ve been in full operation since September of 2018. So it is a year and a half or so. When we’re running. Yeah, we had almost 200 kids that have at least come through the program. You know, not regular, all of them but there’s a core group. So I would say the program sort of evolved as my own evolution, as I evolved as a teacher. So it’s honestly, I think, with a lot of teaching in general or and, you know, it’s kind of an experiment. I didn’t know what I was doing. In a sense, I just cared, right, I just cared, I wanted to do something. So, in the beginning, I’m just trying, you know, just different lesson plans, and some of them, some of them didn’t work and whatnot. So I just kept trying different ideas. I just always take note, you know, and I’m just paying attention to the reaction of the kids. And so when the kids are very honest, so they’re like, this is boring, or you know, like, what are you doing, you know, so I’m like, Alright, thanks that helps.

Tyler

What have they responded well to?

Yuki 

They respond well to the poetry pizza party. That’s a big hit, of course, anything with food, right? At the beginning I didn’t have snacks, and then I learned Oh, I need to have snacks. So, for the weekly sessions, we have like popcorn, cookies, and stuff like that. And then once a month, I started having a poetry pizza party, which is basically, you know, gathering kids to create these like poetry stations. And then so there’s like a theme every month. And then there’ll be like, one little station where they can play on the vintage typewriter and then they type certain words that are poetic words that are related to the theme or another one where they you know, write a poem, you know, or another one where they do an arts and crafts on which they can paste their poem, you know, anyway, so it’s all kind of interconnected. And based on the theme for that month, that’s been fun.

Gramel

How does the martial arts come into play then?

Yuki

Yeah, so for the weekly sessions, we do it for two hours. So Garrett was the martial arts teacher, He will teach for about, you know, the first 45 minutes at the end of it, he leads them you know, he’ll do like a silent meditation and then that sort of then shifts them you know, into like a poetry mode and then we have like a little break and then we do the poetry session.

The whole idea of martial arts and poetry kind came together for me was that I see them as very similar in a way where one is you’re kind of mentally being an emotionally being able to learn how to express yourself in a constructive way. Release you know a lot that you may be holding emotionally or mentally and then the martial arts part you know, similar I would say kind of expressing yourself physically in a you know, kind of moving your body in like an artistic and discipline way.

Gramel

Have you got some young people that have really blossomed in both?

Yuki 

I would say for the poetry. There was one student who came consistently for the first couple months of doing it. He’s a lion, you know, and it was so interesting. Oh, he’s like, He’s incredible young man, super bright, such a leader. And so he’s amazing. I don’t know, he’s like doing work with like, the mayor’s office and like, they’re, you know, Urban League and all kinds of like, he’s just like, very active.

The way I view these kids, It was almost like, I’m putting this here, right like this tool here. But it’s for kids who want to use it. And the thing is the nature of this program, it’s not a type of this is not the kind of neighborhood and program the situation is not where like, the parents are super involved, right? Like a lot of these kids are on their own. They’re very independent. It was like these, the kids who come to the battleground are coming on their own. And so they are kids who have initiative anyway. And so I just see it as I’m serving them, who are like already capable. So I feel that the program in itself is helping to like nurture that ability and that tendency and helping them channel their energy. To me their greatness or their capability is something that was already like inherent So yeah, so you know, definitely in kids like either that young man I mentioned in terms of poetry and then there’s a whole group of them who consistently come in poetry.

I’ll hear from other people like, oh, did you hear like so and so is like speaking at the school board. There’s like a group of them who’ve been consistently participating in the poetry and they have enrolled themselves and like this, like young businessman’s club, and they’re like learning how to, like continue to utilize, you know, these like kind of community resources to like develop themselves. So, yeah, there’s some of the little boys who’ve been doing martial arts who are a big part of the martial arts interestingly, and though, it’s like really learning how to master their discipline, their patience and like a lot of them with their emotions. You know, so I see that in terms of martial arts.

Gramel

It must be gratifying for you. And then it sounds like it’s even a learning experience for you. And it is exciting working with kids or young people when they get excited. And you see a change in them.

Tyler

And I wanted to ask you, so you work at Ringling now. And so which area of Florida do you live in? And how what is kind of in like, your path to Florida?

Yuki 

Yeah, so I live I live in Clearwater.

Tyler

Oh, Largo over here. I didn’t know you were that close.

Yuki 

Yeah, I live in Clearwater, but it was a drive, you know, working in Sarasota Ringling, and then I would you know, and then the battleground program in Sulphur Springs and Tampa, Sulphur Springs, so driving quite a lot.

Tyler

And how long have you lived in Florida?

Yuki

I have lived here, on and off. Whoo. So I lived initially in Jacksonville, we moved there when I was about 12. And then, you know, we lived there for about a year and also at another point in my earlier childhood. So you know, my dad was in the military in the Navy. So we were like moving around a lot. But yeah, we’ve been in Florida permanently since I was 12. And I lived in Jacksonville until my early 20s. And then the way I came to Tampa was through a at the time, it was a romantic relationship. Yeah. Oh, sorry. But yeah, we were Long Distance Actually, he lived here. And then I lived in Jacksonville, but then we, you know, we had met in person, and then we’re doing long distance thing. And then, and then one day I came to visit him and My car broke down, like totally died. And then I was just like, You know what? I guess that means I’m here.

Gramel 

You’re a great storyteller. I’ve never been so quiet. Your voice changes every now and then when you really get excited. Yeah. I love that.

Tyler

So in the Creative Loafing article that was recently published, you mentioned that you finished your first full length collection. Can you talk to us a little bit about those poems?

Yuki 

Yeah, so it’s called record. That’s the name of the collection. And it’s sort of, I guess, a nod. Also, because I’m a really big hip hop fan. I feel like I’m a poet because I can’t be like, I can’t rap. I don’t sound like a rapper.

Tyler

I want to be a rock star, but I can’t sing so..

Yuki 

You know, so, and kind of have that attitude, right, like in, in our writing. So yeah, so that’s how I feel about it sounds like I can’t have a record or an album, I’m gonna like, call my book of record. But also, it also has other meanings. It’s also the idea of the shape of a circle is also what was prevalent to me. And that’s sort of also how this collection goes. So once you get to the last poem in this collection, the last line leads into the first line of the first poem in the collection. So yeah, and you know, what’s, you know, it was one of those things where it’s like, saw that, I was like, Oh, that’s cool. Yeah, you know, but so it’s cyclical the theme, it’s basically most of it’s exploring a relationship I had a few years ago. Um, you know, sort of this experience that I had with like really coming to awaken to my past lives and my, how it ties into my current life and, you know, that has the themes of me really living as like this divine feminine, you know, historically, right? It was like Mary, was also the way for the Buddha life of Jesus, you know, and just like really tying awakening to the fact that all of those figures are tied in through my life. That’s told through a series of interactions I’ve had with that guy.

I have some poems where I talk about then my experience with the kids in Sulphur Springs. And then the middle section I, you know, I’m talking about my experience where I’m heartbroken. You know, he breaks my heart and then I’m from, you know, really lack of valuing my life, I had come very close to ending my own life through that heartbreak and I ended up Baker acting myself, um, a few years ago. And so the middle section is where it there’s like a series of about like maybe 15 to 20 poems like short poems, where it’s just about those 72 hours of me being in the baker act facility, because that was a very, very interesting experience. But it was also like this, like super profound and beautiful experience, you know, which it doesn’t seem on the surface. And so that’s what I experienced in that Baker Act facility where it’s like on the surface, it looks like all of us in all of us are obviously there because we’re suffering, except for the staff, even though some of the staff were like struggling with the same things we were, which was interesting, right? Because they’re like, anyway, but yeah, so on the surface, it just looked like a hell. But it was this really, really enlightened experience that I had in there. And so I talked about that and then you know, towards the end I’m, you know, just kind of like ending it with like talking about more of where I’m at now in terms of like, coming from a place of a higher sense of self. And, you know, just kind of moving forward with like, new relationships, a new idea of what it means to be a person.

Gramel 

I bet your family is proud of you. I think so I think you’re just amazing. You know, you’re smart, you’re willing. You got a heart of love, and you’re willing to change it. As a mother, I will be very proud of

Yuki 

Oh, thank you. I appreciate you saying. Yeah, it’s hard because especially as a writer, because now especially with me kind of coming to terms with some things from my childhood, I’m like, you know, I’m a writer, so I, like I’m writing about it. And I have a feeling I’m going to get even more explicit about it, in, you know, future works, that I’m going to hopefully be able to share publicly. You know, I also I’m also nervous, right? Because it’s like, as much as I have this tremendous gratitude for my family, you know, for like, so many things like even you know, the good, bad and the ugly, you know, I’m grateful for all of it right? Because it’s enabled me to experience what I needed to, but at the same time, I also, you know, I get nervous too, you know, like, what, yeah, they know I’m gonna put it all in there. It’s kind of I’m kind of in a weird place with my family right now. So you, you saying that like, really really helps me to remember that like what ultimately, you know, kind of at play,

Gramel 

You should never hide who you really are.

Tyler

Do you have any poems that you might want to read for us or a poem from your new collection?

Yuki 

Yeah, I can pull something up. Let’s see…

“So Fly”

I can hear
my roommate’s birds
get aggressive
with their bell

I ring mine three times
and sing a mantra
to free myself

my feet, no longer laced up

when I Baker-Acted myself
they made me unlace my sneakers
so I wouldn’t hang myself

the ties are removed,
so I’m free to move forward

As I pray
I think about the phrase

you’re preaching to the choir

does this mean
we consider those who sing
to already possess
spiritual knowledge?

in the chapel is a capella,
a choir, a body of singers
who perform
led by a conductor

the Central
African Republic
Aka pygmies’
vocal musical tradition
mastered by all community members

the songs perpetuate
essential knowledge

like my friend
the soprano
who studies music
so she can heal others

and I think about how we awaken
to bird sounds

Nichiren writes:

This is what is meant by ‘Buddha’

when a caged bird sings,
birds flying in the sky
are thereby summoned

Sensei’s last lines
in The New Human Revolution:

In his mind’s eye,
[he] had an uplifting vision

majestic young eagles
bathed in the dawning light
of the third millennium

before the musical performance
on the top floor

I notice
the two headed eagle pattern
surrounding The Attic

I tell Chael it reminds me of
Nichiren’s instruction
to a couple

the Buddha preaches
on Eagle Peak
after the Ceremony
in the Air

he is my favorite MC
so I place his photo
next to my favorite poem
about birds being men
and men being birds

in his rap video,
he’s on top
of a parking garage,
palms spread wide,
facing up

he tells me
he did poetry
because he wanted
to take a flight

in today’s Hey Qween,
the queen known for being high
talks about the time
she went sky-diving

McGovern says to her,

I appreciate
an intersectional jump,
thank you very much,
for representing
femininity where it lives,
even if it’s in the sky
hurtling to earth

Tyler

Wow, wow. One of the reasons I have to say that I wanted to interview you and have you on besides all the great work that you’re doing is because of the way you perform your poems. And to me, that’s something I really look for, and a poet, and that I really respond to and respect I think you’re such a good reader.

Yuki 

Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. Do you practice like performance?

Tyler

Oh, yeah.

Yuki

Okay. I need to do that more, I think but yeah, because I really admire poets who are able to memorize their stuff because I haven’t gotten to that point. Do you have any tips as far as like performance?

Tyler

Not for you, you’re already good. I think for me, I guess but like on a, I guess a tip that I, what I really respond to, is a poet who figures out what their style is, and then owns that, like, it doesn’t all have to be loud or whatever. But it can be weird and quirky, but as long as they’re owning the space and the time, because sometimes I’ll see poets that are kind of like reluctant to be up in front of people and it doesn’t seem like it’s respectful to the work. So whatever you’re going to do, just own it. That’s how I feel because for me, there’s I don’t love my voice. I don’t love how I sound but I know that If I’m going to be giving a reading that I have to make it worth people to be enough that moment with me.

Gramel 

I love karaoke. Ah, that’s, and I owe that song. I sang it for a while, and then I start making it mine. And yes, and then I apologize for, I guess saying it like, I feel it.

Tyler

That just reminds me because definitely, she and I sing karaoke together. But something that reminds me of is that back in the day, I would do this thing before reading where I would. I’d be like, I’m gonna sing a little song for you guys before I start, and then I would sing I Dreamed a Dream, but only like the first like, two sentences and be like, Oh, I forgot the rest. I don’t know. It was so corny. But it just I always made people like crack up. And after that, it was like, okay, we’re gonna have some fun.

Yuki 

I love that, like music and songs have such an ability to like open people’s hearts.

Tyler

I love that and like catching people off guard at the beginning of a reading I think is always a good tactic.

Yuki

That is that’s very ninja.

Gramel 

We’ll have to go out to karaoke again.

Yuki 

I used to do karaoke not regularly but I you know, I would do like parties and stuff when I was younger but I haven’t done it in years. But you know, I’m, I’m open to it.

Tyler

Well, that would be so much fun. We should.

Gramel 

Yes, it is a lot of fun.

Yuki 

Yeah, with our masks.

Tyler

Well, before we kind of sign off, is there anything that You know, you would like to say or that, you know, you have coming out that you want to kind of let people know about our any final words?

Yuki 

No, I’m just like, you know, super grateful to be able to talk with you guys like, you know, especially in this, I mean just said, like have opportunity to like chat period, you know, especially in the time where you’re kind of very isolated, you know, I just love, you know, being able to like, mix with some genuine people. So, I’m just grateful for this conversation. And, you know, as far as my work right now, I’m in a stage where I’m incubating and, you know, coming up with things So, hopefully, you know, later this year, there’ll be more things coming out. Oh, I’m writing another article for Creative Loafing. So then that’s going to be in the poet’s notebook section.

Tyler

That’s great! Congrats on that.

Gramel 

It’s been a real delight and education talking to you and I have a kind of a total different way of looking at poetry now to I’m from the school that roses are red, violets are blue. But that’s not the way poetry is anymore. My mother wrote a lot of points and just write one when she would send a greeting card to somebody for their birthday or whatever. You know, poetry has really evolved. But I think it’s a great way to express yourself. It’s honest, and it’s great for your youth that you’re working with to be able to have a safe way to express themselves.

Tyler

Well, thank you for taking the time.

Yuki 

It’s been such a delight. Thank you guys. So yeah, we’ll go karaoke soon.

This is our outro

Tyler

Don’t let me forget that when we go to karaoke. I want to sing Jolene by Dolly Parton. Just I really drawn to that song in this moment of time.

Gramel 

It’s a good song.. It’s a hard song. It’s very high and very fast. Yeah, you’re very fast. I can sing it but it’s hard and I don’t think it well.

Tyler

Okay, so, come back to the pod next time. We’ll have a great chat for you subscribe, subscribe to our newsletter, email us, AFloridaThing@gmail.com. Tweet us, pigeon, mail us, snail mail us, Turkey mail us all the animal mail

Gramel   

Or you know US mail.

Tyler

Who does that anymore?

Gramel

I do. I send greeting cards regularly all the time.

Tyler

She does greeting cards, Christmas cards. She will send Christmas cards to someone for a decade, even if they’re not sending them back.

Gramel 

That’s not the purpose of sending cards.

1 thought on “Tiffany & Yuki Transcript!

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