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Flapper Press Poetry Café Announces Indira Hiyas Tiongson   As Our 2024 Flapper Press Emerging Youth Poet

Updated: Apr 7

By Annie Newcomer:                 

Indira Hiyas Tiongson, Photo by Zimmerman, 2023 Kansas Book Festival at Washburn University

The Flapper Press Poetry Café staff is dedicated to encouraging our youth to write and to volunteer as ways to make a positive difference in our world. After meeting Indira "Ira" Hiyas Tiongson at the 2023 Kansas State Book Festival held at Washburn University last summer, I was drawn to learn more about her poetry and to hear about the ways her devotion to her writing enriches her world. 

The enthusiasm and the respect Ira demonstrated  toward the presenters throughout the day at this event reminded me that poetry does indeed influence others. Signing Ira's yellow volunteer shirt along with all the other presenters reminded me that working poets are role models, and this includes how we mentor emerging poets.

Could there be any greater reward for a poet than to observe the curiosity for poetry reflected in the eyes of the youth?

If you agree, then to witness that sparkle—as I did with Ira—is to be assured that the future of poetry is in good hands. 

In Indira's own words:

Indira Hiyas Tiongson, Photo by Picture World Studio (Doha, Qatar)

"My name is Indira Hiyas M. Tiongson, but I go by Ira. I’ve been writing since I was ten years old and [have] participated in various writing competitions. My mother was the first person to spark my love for books and words as she herself is passionate in writing. I currently live in Topeka, Kansas, where I am in my senior year of high school. I’ve only published one original book online in Wattpad and mostly write as a mental outlet, which is shown through my poems and essays. I love connecting with people, especially sharing their creatives."

*Update: Recently, Ira earned a scholarship from the Martin Luther King "Living the Dream'"Inc.

I recently reached out to Ira to talk to her about her poetry and her life.

Please Meet Indira "Ira" Hiyas M. Tiongson!

Annie Newcomer: Welcome to the Flapper Press Poetry Café, Ira. We met in September this year (2023) at the Kansas Book Fair in Topeka at Washburn University where you were a volunteer and I was on Dennis Etzel Jr.’s Collaborative Writing Panel. You lit up the room with your sweet demeanor and willingness to assist all the poets and writers. Might you share with our readers why you believe it is important for students to volunteer at events such as this?

Indira Hiyas Tiongson: I first heard about the book festival from my librarian, Ms. Karns, in Topeka West where the poetry slam is held and hosted by my school. Due to my love for reading and writing, I saw this as an opportunity to try something new. As a fellow young writer and a passionate teenager, it is so important to build connections with your community because those offer the kind of support that pushes you to grow. Being involved in volunteer events such as the Kansas Book Fair opens so many doors to learn from mentors and friends that you can use in the future. All my best writings come from the experiences I’ve gained.

AN: Please share a little about yourself and how the way poetry is taught in Qatar may differ or be similar to the curriculum in the U.S. schools.

IHT: Growing up in Qatar taught me so much about myself. I fell in love with that country to the point that I learned Arabic and aimed to be fluent with it, which I am now! There are some differences in the way poetry is taught in Qatar compared to the United States. Here in the U.S., there are several technicalities in grammar and skill associated with poetry, whereas in Qatar, the curriculum is much more focused on the idea and style of writing. There, they write from right to left because it follows Arabic. In the U.S., we write from left to right because it follows English. Otherwise, the two are similar.

AN: Who brought you to poetry? Who are some of your favorite poets from Qatar? Do you have a poet laureate in Qatar? Might you share a line of two from one of their poems?

IHT: I learned poetry through my English teacher, who also taught me the language. Poetry wasn’t anything new to me; however, writing poetry was. Once I got the hang of poetry, I began to use it as an outlet for my emotions and experiences. I don’t really have a favorite poet from Qatar, but one of my favorites poets is Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet, who wrote so beautifully in Arabic. The poet laureate in Qatar though (as far as I know) is Mohammed al-Ajami, who created a lot of political poems that touched the hearts of many. I’m unfamiliar with his work, so I’ll offer up Mahmoud Darwish instead, since this is one I remember by heart. 

“They asked me, do you love her to death?

I said, 'speak of her over my grave and watch how she

brings me back to life.' ”

AN: Ira, those are beautiful poetic lines. And thank you for giving us some insight into your background. Would you now describe why you think writing poetry is important for students of your age?

IHT: With all the issues going around the world, poetry is one of the many ways for teenagers like me to express themselves safely. This is how they are able to bond with like-minded people, be vulnerable, and tell their story to others in a creative way. Poetry isn’t just a form of writing but an outlet for the youth to find themselves and solidify their identity.

Indira Hiyas Tiongson and Family

AN: Who is your "go-to-person" in your family for poetry?

IHT: As a teenager trying to navigate my relationship with my mom, I shared my love for writing with her. I like reading poems because of her and searching through Tumblr. I first discovered poetry in tumblr and discovered this beautiful and raw way for people to express themselves. I learned just from copying the writing style of those tumblr posts until I became vulnerable with my poems and began to write in my own voice. 

AN: As an active and involved high school student, when do you find time for poetry?

IHT: Because my weekdays are always full, I usually take advantage of my free time on the weekends to just sit down and write everything I need to express. Sometimes I’ll have projects or exams to do on the weekend, so my time and creative juices both end up occupied. When that happens and I get too busy, I like to write one or two lines at night before bed just to allow myself to note any idea or feelings, and then I just revise them when I’m free again. 

AN: When people read your poetry, what do you hope they will experience?

IHT: I always tell myself to write in my voice and to write from the heart, so I wish that readers of my work get a sense of validation or hope from my poetry. I want people to be able to say that they felt the same way; that they’re not wrong for crying over a boy, for missing their ex-best friend, or for being scared of speaking up, and that the world isn’t going to end if they do feel that deeply. Those emotions are what makes us human, and I want people to find the beauty in that because they aren’t alone for feeling, and to feel deeply is actually a great privilege. 

AN: Please share how living in different countries has shaped how you write.

IHT: Getting to study Arabic poetry and Asian poetry, and even writing a few myself, has made me lean on writing freely. I realized that patterns, rhymes, and techniques were all actually subjective to the kind of audience that I have. Certain poems I write aren't going to make sense in Tagalog or Cantonese. The Arabic poems I write aren't going to come out the same when in English. Now I can write in a variety of styles and choose the one that I think will best show how I feel and what I want to say to my readers in the moment. 

AN: Who are your favorite poets, and why?

IHT: I have a couple but I’ll name my three favorites: Mahmoud Darwish, Sylvia Plath, and Ocean Vuong. Mahmoud Darwish was one of the first Arabic poets who I fell in love with, and I always come back to the way he writes Arabic poems in such a breathtaking fashion. Sylvia Plath introduced me to the world of poetry back in tumblr, and I’ve loved her work since then. Ocean Vuong is a more recent poet and notable in this century. I adore all his poems. As an Asian immigrant, Vuong often writes about the nuanced relationship he had with his mom, which I resonate with as well.

AN: What are some of your goals in poetry?

IHT: My poetry goal is to write something that is true to myself and something that is bare. My English teacher once told me that the kind of poems that always connect with others are ones where the writers strips themselves naked to present their thoughts and feelings. I always aim for my poetry to be vulnerable and open for readers in order [for them] to see themselves and their experiences in every line.

AN: When we met at the Kansas State Book Fair last summer, I was impressed by your spirit of volunteerism. Please share how volunteering at an event such as this inspired your own writing. Might you share about why you wanted the presenters at the Book Festival to sign your t-shirt?

IHT: Volunteering for big events like the book fair is just a refreshing way for me to find new inspiration in my writing by experiencing the festival and meeting new people. I often notice the littlest things when I’m at big events. For example, the poetry slam section in the festival helped me write about my stage fright as I presented there in front of all those people. 

As a goal-oriented person, I also like to have a small project when I volunteer for festivals. In this case, it was the authors’ signatures, which helped me put myself out there when conversing with the presenters as well as enjoying the moment better since there was a goal to achieve. 

AN: Do you have a plan for how you will continue to develop your poetry in college?

IHT: I know there’s no perfect plan when it comes to writing, but I’m hoping to take writing classes that will at least help me with writing technicalities as well as develop a style that may be better for me to express myself in with my future poems. I’d like classes that foster my imagination. In addition, I want to experience classes that have a certain requirement to meet when I write poetry since, to date, I’ve been freestyling most of my poems. 

AN: If you could explain your poetic journey, thus far, in a phrase, what might that phrase be? And why?

IHT: "All the Claw Marks I Carry" encompasses significant moments in my life that I'll always remember. I've always struggled to let go of things for many reasons, but as I grow with every passing season, I learn to overcome those fears and let each claw mark heal with time.

AN: We are so pleased that you came into our Flapper Press Poetry Café for this visit, Ira. Wishing you everything good as you pursue your studies. Now is the time for you to select poems to share with our readers.  

IHT: Thank you Annie and Elizabeth and the Flapper Press Poetry Café for this opportunity. 


This country robbed my father of his limbs. He no longer walks with his head up or holds me like home. Instead his palms are firm and calloused from work so my small, soft ones can carry the world weightlessly. My father cut his legs off, tied them into a ribbon of sacrifice, and gifted them for my feet to slow dance in places he could only dream of seeing. 


About the poem:

The people in my life have nurtured, guided, and cheered for me, most especially my dad. I recently got into a fight with my dad, and this was a particularly difficult week for me. I was getting all my projects and homework due this week before finals. My argument with my dad really opened my eyes to how strict he had to grow into living as an immigrant and why he constantly pushed me to try harder (which was what we fought about) since he grew up from nothing and simply wanted me to seek what was best for me. I was always aware of my father’s sacrifices as an immigrant, but it’s only ever dawned on [me] how fortunate I truly am to get to do all of the things I am passionate about without financial worries or real-life consequences, unlike my father. I remember especially crying in the bathroom when my College English teacher praised me for my essay that I really enjoyed writing, and the fact that I could say I had access to this kind of education was already a privilege my dad did not have. Despite his anger towards me that moment and still apologizing to me after, I was able to just soak in everything my dad has done for me and it made me humanize his frustrations and nagging that I used to always hate. 


Unspoken Words

I have written threads of poetry time and time again.

I am a girl of stardust and love stories–to show the world my heartaches and butterflies

come as easy as breathing now.

But this silence that linger between each intertwined words that I don’t dare to speak,

drown me in an endless ocean of misery I put myself in.

I choose not to write love about you,

and for you,

and of you.

Until my papers begin to whisper the chances I missed,

Until my name parallel yours on letters I wish I sent,

Until there was a maybe in the middle but never an us in the end.

Because even in this poem,

I hesitated to just tell you I love you until it was too late.


About the Poem:

"Unspoken Words" shows the perspective of a young first love as someone who was afraid to speak up because of rejection. I was the kid who never raised her hand in class, the friend who never shared her thoughts, and the girl who never took the chances presented in front of her. My experience with my first love taught me the moments I lose when I don’t use my voice. As I closely enter adulthood, I am louder in expressing myself to my loved ones and my passion. While I am no longer that fourteen year-old terrified over a rejection from my boy best friend, I hold this memory with me as a good reminder to just say it. 


Even My Pen Misses You

I can’t stop writing about you

but can you blame me,

when only in my poems do you exist

as beautiful as I once thought you were.


About the poem:

"Even My Pen Misses You" is the day I was taught to see the good in people even when they aren’t good to me. Despite my young age, I’ve been betrayed a lot and lost a lot with the boundaries I set. To me, letting go of people doesn't mean I contain harsh feelings against them, although it is admittedly difficult. I wish them well, and I only ever write beautiful things about them because there was a time where I loved them and I don’t regret loving my people. I’ll keep the good moments with me to write about, but all those bad ones are not my baggage to carry.


You've Had to Have Known, Right?

I have always loved in silence.

I rather have ten thousand letters hidden on the side of my shelves, all folded and neatly stacked together.

I rather have one hundred-something pictures hanging on my walls, all dust-covered and untouched.

I relish the moments when time pauses and all I can hear are your laughs, all I can see are your smiles, and everything goes on to live yet doesn’t quite matter as much as you existing now.

In that split second, I take twenty more photos in my head and write forty more letters in my heart before time melts and my love is invisible again.

For someone who weaves words into clothes and iron them out into sentences on a daily basis, I never make enough words to express my adoration for you.

I don’t tell you about any of the love sitting in the pages of my journal waiting for the next poetic phrase to describe you again.

I’ve always loved people better in secret anyways in case they don’t love me back

because then what do I do with all these poems?


About the poem:

"You Had to Have Known, Right?" is based on the drawer of little things in my vanity. I am a memory-holder. No matter how awful things become, I’ll always have the letter or the polaroid or the keychain with me for safekeeping. I hold a lot of love for people and therefore have plenty of claw marks constellating me. It is hard to express everything I feel, so I show them through every memory stored in my drawer. This means I never fully let go of everyone, but I’ve embraced that wonderful thing about me. Everything I felt behind always has a part of me, and I always treasure what others leave behind.


Annie Newcomer

Annie Klier Newcomer resides in Shawnee Mission, Kansas where she teaches poetry and coaches chess in Kansas City L.I.N.C. After-School Programs. She is honored to work with Elizabeth Gracen to help showcase poetry through the Flapper Press Poetry Café initiative. When not writing, swimming or walking her Aussiedoodle, you can find Annie sailing, camping or traveling with David, her husband of 44 years.

If you enjoyed this Flash Poet interview, we invite you to explore more here! 

Presenting a wide range of poetry with a mission to promote a love and understanding of poetry for all. We welcome submissions for compelling poetry and look forward to publishing and supporting your creative endeavors. Submissions may also be considered for the Pushcart Prize. Please review our Guidelines before submitting!

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