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Lansing's new poet laureate promises fun and inclusivity during two-year appointment

Masaki Takahashi wearing a suit and speaking into a microphone on a stage
Courtesy
/
Stevie Pipis

The Lansing region has a new poet laureate.

The Lansing Economic Area Partnership, the Residential College for Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry at Michigan State University and the Lansing Poetry Club appointed Masaki Takahashi for the two-year position.

He'll take over from Laura Apol.

Takahashi is known for founding The Poetry Room Open Mic at the Robin Theatre in 2017.

He will now serve as an ambassador for poetry in mid-Michigan by doing readings and instructional workshops.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke to him about what the appointment means to him.

Interview Highlights

On the themes his poetry touches on

A lot of my poetry talks about Asian American identity, the experience of it all, love in a lot of different forms, how we love. Whether it be like the relationship with my father, who I don't know, and my uncle taking me on, the women in my life, my mom, my aunt, my cousins, so love in so many different forms

On how he hosted his open mic series during the pandemic

During the pandemic, that was super rough. So, we had these virtual events. You have to find the silver lining in everything. There's no other choice in life, but to just to keep moving on. So, I was able to pull in all my friends across the nation to do these poetry readings virtually because we all needed that interaction. And then at the same time, we were able to reach out to some of our favorite national poets, like super popular ones. We raised money for local nonprofits.

On why he's excited to do workshops with young poets

I love workshopping with students, especially high school students, because that's where I started. And it reminds me of where I started because you become skilled and more technical, and you can hide behind those things. But every child who starts writing has a stroke of genius. They all think they're the best writers right off the bat, and I never tell them otherwise because I want to gas them up. Because they are, in a sense, they are the best writers at that point.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: The Lansing region has a new poet laureate.

For the next two years, Masaki Takahashi will serve as an ambassador for poetry in mid-Michigan by doing readings and instructional workshops.

Takahashi joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Masaki Takahashi: Thank you for having me.

Saliby: You've been writing poetry since you were a teenager. What inspired you to first write then and now keep writing?

Takahashi: Angst. Being an angsty teenager as we all are.

Saliby: And what's kept you? I hope that you've grown a little bit out of your teenage angst.

Takahashi: Oh, well, with skill, after anger, is a lot of the pain and dissecting that and the realization of a lot of other things in your life. So, if you're going to blame, blame fully, so I learned that from Tony Robbins.

Saliby: So, what kind of themes do you focus on in your poetry now?

Takahashi: A lot of my poetry talks about Asian American identity, the experience of it all, love in a lot of different forms, how we love.

Whether it be like the relationship with my father, who I don't know, and my uncle taking me on, the women in my life, my mom, my aunt, my cousins, so love in so many different forms, and like my ex-wife, that's one relationship.

Saliby: What does it mean for you to be selected as a regional poet laureate?

Takahashi: We're going to have some fun. It's going to be wild. And I'm just trying to kick in the door, really trying to create and cultivate places. I think, at some points, people of color don't have space held for them, and I really want to be able to provide that.

I think, at some points, people of color don't have space held for them, and I really want to be able to provide that.

I want to give more exposure to a lot of different experiences, outside of just race. And, you know, there's other aspects like gender that I can't speak upon. So hopefully, we could kick in the door and have a lot of hard conversations.

Saliby: Speaking of creating space, you founded The Poetry Room Open Mic at the Robin Theatre a few years ago. It's continued online in some form during the pandemic.

Can you speak on how what you've done with that series will kind of impact what you do over the next two years as poet laureate?

Takahashi: During the pandemic, that was super rough. So, we had these virtual events. You have to find the silver lining in everything. There's no other choice in life, but to just to keep moving on.

So, I was able to pull in all my friends across the nation to do these poetry readings virtually because we all needed that interaction. And then at the same time, we were able to reach out to some of our favorite national poets, like super popular ones. We raised money for local nonprofits. What else can we do? We just had fun.

Saliby: So, speaking of having fun, what are you most excited about when it comes to this two-year appointment?

Takahashi: I'm really excited about workshops. I love workshopping with students, especially high school students, because that's where I started. And it reminds me of where I started because you become skilled and more technical, and you can hide behind those things.

But every child who starts writing has a stroke of genius. They all think they're the best writers right off the bat, and I never tell them otherwise because I want to gas them up.

But every child who starts writing has a stroke of genius. They all think they're the best writers right off the bat, and I never tell them otherwise because I want to gas them up. Because they are, in a sense, they are the best writers at that point.

Because there's nothing else in the world that's better than that, what they're working on. And that stroke of genius, every one of them has it.

Saliby: Are there any other bits of advice that you usually give young poets?

Takahashi: Just to keep doing it. You never know what's going to happen. If you told me five years ago, this would happen, I wouldn't have guessed it. I've gotten to meet all of my heroes.

Like if I told you a top five list of poets I wanted to meet. All of them. All of them, you know, I got to sit down and have dinner, and you know, I got to try to hit on my poet crush [laughs]. So all of that, just to say like nobody knows, let alone you know, what can happen in this really wild ride.

Saliby: Masaki Takahashi is the Lansing region's poet laureate. Thank you for joining me.

Takahashi: Thank you very much, Sophia.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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