Monday, March 6, 2023

The 40 but 10 Interview Series: Elizabeth (Betsy) Aoki

I had retired the literary Would You Rather interview series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Joining us today is Elizabeth (Betsy) Aoki. She is a poet, fiction writer and game producer. Her first poetry collection, Breakpoint was a 2019 National Poetry Series Finalist  and published in March 2022 by Tebot Bach as the winner of the Patricia Bibby First Book Award.  Her poem “Slouching like a velvet rope” won the 2021 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize, selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Jericho Brown.

Aoki has received fellowships from the City of Seattle, Artist Trust Foundation, Jackstraw Writers Program, Clarion West Writers Workshop and Hedgebrook She serves on the board of Clarion West and as an assistant poetry editor for

Her prior publications include Calyx, Hunger Mountain, Nassau Review (winner of the 2015 Writer Award), the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, Phoebe, Poetry Northwest, The Seattle Times, Seattle Review, Southern Humanities Review, (Letters to America). You can find her tweeting at @baoki or contact her via her website at


Why do you write?
I write because I devoured books as a kid and then of course as an adult with a wider access to different kinds of writing. All the joy of new worlds, immersion in language and emotional currents, all the excitement of experiencing new ways of thinking through reading compounded to make me want to give back in some way.

I also feel like my writing brain – because it has a chance to consider, versus whatever flies out of my mouth in the moment – has a better chance at getting at what matters.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I make amazing chocolate chip cookies.

What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

I donated my Patricia Bibby First Book Award prize - $500 from Tebot Bach – to Black Girls Code.
I want a future with Black women in tech.

Describe your book in three words.

“Integral, functional, game face” is what Ms. Magazine used to describe Breakpoint (my poetry debut about women in technology) and I think those choices play homage to the computational language Breakpoint leans on as well as the ‘game face’ every woman in tech puts on when she goes to work in the morning.

Describe your book poorly.

Breakpoint is a lyrical homage to tech bros and their collective genius through the lens of the women who work with them … hahaha never mind, can’t do it. Sorry.

     What is your favorite way to waste time?  

-- Video games! I have to watch out or they take over all available time that I use for sleeping.  I think Hades was the last one to completely crush my ability to sleep, and so I have had to be wary of what I start playing or no writing, eating or sleeping gets done. I do notice when I do not have a game I am playing, I get more writing done (sad but true).

Which literary invention do you wish was real and why?

I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy so there are a ton of inventions to choose from. Probably magical portals or teleportation devices like they have on Star Trek – there are too many cool places in the world to see, and not enough time to get to most of them!

 What’s on your literary bucket list? 

I would love to camp out in a city for a year – London, Kyoto, Tokyo, New York City, New Orleans, Prague, Paris, etc. and just write poems and tales of that city. I need to save up for that, but definitely on my bucket list.

If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?

A variety of sushi, chocolate mousse cake, and Lappert’s Lilikoi (passionfruit) ice cream from Kauai. I would definitely skip the salad and have a Sauternes to go with the meal because as my Dad notes, “Sauternes goes with everything.”

      What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

I wish I hadn’t been hunting for “the perfect writing lifestyle” and instead just gave myself permission to write as much as possible, in odd pockets of time. While vacations and residencies have been the best at giving me focused time, I could have done more for a weekly or daily routine that fit my biorhythms rather than thinking I had to do morning pages, take whole days off, etc. I have a friend who wrote a novel by banging away at it every lunch hour. Five hours a week is not shabby. I feel like I had more time than I thought to write, because I had this ideal notion of what ‘writing time’ really is.


Betsy Aoki has magically brought the technological — and in her hands, playful — language of computing into the realm of poetry: breakpoint, collide, return— and of course, code. Her poems using digital diction are quirky and adamant – here is a woman in a male-dominated field staking her territory in real life and in metaphor.

A second code, so to speak is Japanese American culture, hers. In these Aoki takes us to internment camps to anime to Japanese legends and beyond. Across this debut collection we come to see various dimensions of the poet and how what seems disparate collide and collude into unique poetry. No one else could write these marvelous poems – enjoy!




Of the book’s signature poem, “Slouching like a velvet rope”:

“This poem unwinds toward unexpected shifts and turns in just a few lines. And it manages a kind of lyric punch at the mention of each image.”





Breakpoint is an evocative mixture of sensual experiences, and mathematically infused linguistic patterns. Coding offers a way to store and retrieve details, a blueprint for narratives that link the poems to love, trust, and persistence/resilience.  Much like a word problem, the poems underscore the way we store and retrieve details.  Of the many ways we can remember – sound, taste, smell, texture – coding allows us to leave a trail in the chaos of random experiences where those details may be easily reached and reassembled.  Reminiscent of Alice Fulton’s Fractal Poetics, these poems assemble, conflate and arrange: what we know, what we feel, and what we remember.  You don’t have to be a coder to know it’s love when memory and language share the same equation.



Links to Purchase:


Small Press Distribution

Elliott Bay Book Co

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