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Lansing poet laureate Masaki Takahashi hopes you get his name right

Lansing poet laureate Masaki Takahashi
Exit 36 Poetry Festival
/
Alex Luu
Lansing poet laureate Masaki Takahashi

Masaki Takahashi is the founder of The Poetry Room Open Micat The Robin Theatre in Lansing. He’s also been the city’s poet laureate since 2022.

As poet laureate, his goals have been to promote the works of people of color, and to introduce the community to the world of slam poetry.

WKAR’s Scott Pohl talks with Masaki Takahashi about one of his poems.

Interview Transcript

Scott Pohl: You've come to us today with a poem called Butcher My Name. Tell me a little bit about it.

Masaki Takahashi: With my poetry, I like to really be encouraging, and my name is Masaki, and sometimes throughout my entire life, especially my childhood, it would be mispronounced. People would say ‘sorry if I butcher your name.’ That saying to me always felt a little bit weird, and the importance of name. I never Anglicized my name and I had to live with that, and I thought it was really empowering.

If we look at what people call like when Christopher Columbus called the indigenous people Indians, my entire childhood, we were taught they were Indians, when they weren't. And I think it's so important when somebody misnames you that you correct them.

Pohl: Well, I'm excited to hear it. Here's Masaki Takahashi. I hope I haven't butchered your name. The poem is called Butcher My Name.

Takahashi:

Butcher My Name

As the meat clerk yells out

Order up for

Makeshi?

ummm…Miyakee_____?

Is it Masocko___

It is you?

It’s Masaki, actually

I think to myself,

after I correct the pronunciation of my name

Where, Do these other letters come from?

Miyaki? Really?

and why is this person chuckling

And maybe I would find the irony hilarious

If I wasn’t so annoyed

waiting for my order in this deli

while the cashier apologizes for

butchering my name

but at this point, I’m used to it

My name is the fat that holds

the flavor of my homeland

It has too much umami

for this country’s taste

So when my name is being chopped down

by a meat cleaver mouth

I correct them.

My name is the proud wave of a tattered flag

It is my address you can tell where I am from.

Because even though

They don’t think a name defines a person

Mine gives me definition

My name, is Masaki Takahashi

The pride of mother

The only remnants of my father I have left

My name means high bridge, flourishing tree.

As if my parents were prophets

knowing of the troubled water

I would have to encounter

While trying to stay rooted in this life

My name does not mean roadkill to their lead foot lips

Speeding too fast to notice the syllables they ran over.

My name is not the carcass these vultures get to pick at.

I can remember

always having to fight for this name

school yard bullies hunting me like dead meat

Kids who heard my name at recess

and turned the jungle gym into a kill cage

Who wouldn’t let me play on the swings

so I learned_ how to swing

Busted lip, black eye, swollen fists

I have bled for this name

My name will not submit

to their slaughterhouse sensibility

It will not be anglicized for resumes

Or change for anyone’s convenience

My name is not appropriate to appropriate

To cut into model minority pieces

for their charcuterie spread acceptance

My name is Masaki

It is the one my mother gave me.

the one I call home.

A family recipe

that I was made from

and I would rather starve

than ever let anyone just

Butcher My Name

Pohl: That's great! And it turns out I did butcher your name, and you're not even reprimanding me for that. Tell me about that.

Takahashi: I also say Masaki, because that is kind of an American way to say the name in the pronunciation. My name is Japanese and it's Masaki. That's what my mom calls me. But I also have a little bit, like, Americanized it a little bit.

And I've just been Masaki for my entire life. So it kind of stuck.

Pohl: Masaki Takahashi is Lansing's poet laureate, and we're excited here at WKAR to bring you poetry from time to time. I want to thank you for coming in. We hope to hear from you again on the program and perhaps some of your other friends and acquaintances in poetry over the course of time.

Takahashi: Thank you. Thank you, Scott, for having me. This was great and fun.

Scott Pohl has maintained an on-call schedule reporting for WKAR following his retirement after 36 years on the air at the station.
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