Yvette Neisser
Local Poet Yvette Neisser reads from her latest work Jan. 14 at the Writer’s Center; courtesy of Neisser

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Somewhere on the outskirt

of Santa Cruz, down a side road

out of town, gravity is reversed. 

I’m not making this up.

—From “GRAVITY” by Yvette Neisser

Yvette Neisser is an award-winning poet and translator. A fixture in the local literary scene since 2000, she is an organizer, a writer and, in addition to writing and translating a variety of poetry collections, Neisser is also the founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network, a group that meets monthly for readings, workshops, lectures, and conferences.

Neisser’s newest poetry collection, Iron into Flower, published in October 2022 with Finishing Line Press, is a stunning manuscript of narrative exploration. Sometimes whimsical, other times heartbroken by the world and its trajectory, these poems remain both confident and accessible. Neisser is a poet who understands the vulnerability in simplicity, in avoiding the ornate, and each section of the book resonates because of her clean lines and precise breaks.

Iron into Flower is a collection of stories-in-poems, which dive into loss and reflection, growth and recovery. By the end, we are changed with the poet-protagonist.

You’d think nothing could penetrate

that bark, silvered and solid as a wall— 

yet flowers burst 

straight from the trunk: 

first a tiny shoot, 

a spray of buds, 

then bouquets of blossoms.

—from “YOSHINO CHERRY”

City Paper spoke with Neisser about her new collection, her work with the DC-Area Literary Translators Network, and the evolving D.C. literary scene.

Washington City Paper: Tell us about Iron into Flower.

Yvette Neisser: For me, the title Iron into Flower represents transformation—both literal and metaphorical. At the literal level, it is the miraculous transformation of bark into blossom—see the poem “YOSHINO CHERRY”—and at a metaphorical level, the transformation of personal and cultural identities. For example, the poems explore the shift in a woman’s identity after divorce, from wife/mother to “fireball”—see “DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE FROM MY FORMER SELF.” I think the title also resonates with the writing of poetry itself—the struggle of taking a difficult experience and making it bloom in beautiful language.

WCP: Your narrative style makes your poems so accessible. Beautiful, with such movement, these stories in verse! How do you approach writing poetry? Do you think about the story first? Or do you begin with form or imagery?

YN: Each poem comes about in a different way. Sometimes it starts with an image, a memory, or a feeling. Sometimes it may be an observation of nature, art, or current events. For example, “Dayenu” was sparked by the conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2021. “Tea” was a meditation on my grandmother’s lifelong obsession with tea drinking. 

Once I have the image or spark of an idea, I focus on developing the trajectory of the poem—the arc of the poem from start to finish. Usually this means writing everything that comes to mind without any filtering. And that is the first draft. Often, I don’t know what the poem is really going to be about until I start writing it.

Then in revision, I focus on honing the language and chiseling—cutting unnecessary words, lines. Usually, the form emerges in this stage, when I see how the lines naturally group themselves into stanzas, or where a pause is needed.

WCP: You’re the founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network. Can you tell us a little about that work?

YN: Yes! As a poet and lover of languages—Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic—I think literary translation is the best thing since sliced bread. When I began seriously translating poetry—my first book of translations from Spanish came out in 2009—I felt a desire to share this new passion with fellow translators. So I reached out to all the translators I knew, and in 2012 we began meeting monthly to discuss translation issues and share our work. We also invited speakers—both local and from out of town—to present their books in translation.

Over time, we expanded our activities to partner with other organizations to further our mission of promoting the art of literary translation in the greater D.C. area. Ongoing partnerships include the annual Confluence translation conference held at Montgomery College and the annual translation reading with the Café Muse reading series. DC-ALT also is a local affiliate of the American Literary Translators Association.

Since the pandemic, DC-ALT has shifted to primarily online events. Every other month, we host a program featuring two translators, usually from different languages, on Zoom, followed by lively discussion. Occasionally we hold in-person translators’ happy hours. All these events are open to the public. For more info, see our website

WCP: What are your thoughts on the D.C. literary scene? How has it changed—and/or how has your own writing changed—as a result of the pandemic?

YN: One of the reasons I have stayed in the area for so long is the incredibly supportive and active local writers’ community. In a city where the professional and political worlds can be fiercely competitive, there is a wonderful lack of competitiveness among writers. We encourage each other and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Furthermore—before the pandemic—you could find a poetry reading somewhere in the area every night of the year.

This year, I’ve been delighted to be able to start attending readings in person again. Over 20-plus years, this is how I have developed and sustained my own community of writers.

Yvette Neisser reads from Iron into Flower at 6 p.m. on Jan. 14 at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. writer.org. Free, but registration is required.