What We Do Here:

This Blog is about Poetry, and its purpose is to forward poetry in the world with connections to any and all poets I can find. This blog works in conjunction with me other blog.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In the Tea House

Fig 5.  "Fuji-View Tea House on the Takiado at Yoshida."  1830

So many times, I've watched it from afar,
It's snow crowned peak-expanding base.
Its view is undiminished in the face
of tender gieshas, elders, or the poor.
I curse the distance I've been forced to stay
so far from it in rooms of common clay.

I am the toast of all I draw or do--
a well-trained monkey that performs and plays.
They know my name, but not each place I stay,
each name I take, each debt that I accrue,
sends me much farther from my place of birth,
and even now I wonder at my worth.

I've trained my hands to trace in shadowed lines,
and all the textures reach from what I see.
There's nothing I can't sketch or bring to be.
My brush obeys each hand. And what I find
in everything I draw is but the start
of what will someday be my greater art.

I have no place here in this house of tea.
These geisha talk of fashion and of gold.
The travelers in the corner are too old.
The poor cook is the only one I see.
He knows his place and does not question life,
lulled by the rhythmic chopping of his knife.

Beneath the Wave

Fig 4.  Beneath the Wave off Kanagawa. 1830

"The lotus flower has opened, has opened, has opened.
Even as I thought I has opened--lo!
Yattokosa--It has closed again."--Traditional Geisha Song

There are some stories sailors never tell
of waves so tall they swallow boats and all,
in far, cold waters.  They can form a wall,
and bloom like flowers straight from some great hell.

The snow-capped top stays stationary here,
while hand on hand on hand curls up to grab.
Those fools sail out in boats so long and drab
they could be coffins formed by Fuji's tears.

I do not weep for sailors or their wives
for in the distance, I can sense a wave.
It will en-wrap me soon.  I feel it crave
to take me with it, somewhere from this life.

I know not when it comes, that last
blur forming at the edge of time.  It waits
and opens to ensnare me with its hate.
It forms a fist to break me in its grasp.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Wish for Jannette

A Wish for Jannette

May you young word shaper, 
Spin tight words to paper, 
May you mold your desire 
From the clay of your mind, 
Bake every word to fire. 
May you glaze round each line, 
Kiln the smooth curve of rhyme; 
May your still shapes inspire 
Still other poems and song, 
When all our time is gone 
And death demands you come along.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fig. 1.  Interior of a Theater.  Signed Shunro. 1794.   (Hokusai).   


It is so easy now, to part time's tender veil
and look back on my misspent, single youth,
for twenty four years towards my death, the stale
and sulky air bleeds like an angry truth.
The stage I sketch, is but the stage of me
and all I draw is for a few to see.

All that I am starts here--in crowds of masks,
as actors state their lines in scheduled scenes,
my father waits to take me home to tasks
of ornate mirrors carved by humble means.
And here among the tiered walls of this space
a son denies his birthright and his place.

The men on the stage are now outside of time
I stand outside the wall surrounding them,
of where they watch the scenes of song and mime,
delighted by the world they're captured in.
I search these faces for my father's face,
lost in the lines my humble hands must trace.

Look here and you will see that he is gone--
there is no trace that he was ever here,
these lines serve only those I must endear
with noble poses and with shadowed tone.
And yet I search for Father on this page,
I search the deep, wood texture of the stage.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


December 9, 2008 at 8:13am


Complex magazine: What do you listen to these days?

Lil Wayne: Me! All day, all me.

2. Like a white person, with blue veins

In my first few weeks teaching in New Orleans’ Recovery School District, these were the questions I heard the most from my students:

1) “I gotta use it.” (This one might sound like a statement, but it’s a request—May I use the bathroom?)

2) “You got an ol’ lady?” (the penultimate vowel stretched, lasciviously, as far as it’ll go).

3) “Where you from?”

4) “You listen to that Weezy?”

I knew that third question was coming. Like many RSD teachers, I was new, and white, and from out of town.It was the fourth question, however, that seemed to interest my students the most. Dwayne Carter, aka Lil Wayne, aka Weezy F. Baby, was in the midst of becoming the year’s biggest rapper, and among the black teenagers that made up my student population, fandom had reached a near-Beatlemania pitch. More than ninety percent of my students cited Lil Wayne on the “Favorite Music” question on the survey I gave them; about half of them repeated the answer on “Favorite Things to Do.”

For some of my students, the questions Where are you from? and Do you listen to Lil Wayne? were close to interchangeable. Their shared currency—as much as neighborhoods or food or slang or trauma—was the stoned musings of Weezy F. Baby.

The answer was, sometimes, yes, I did listen to Lil Wayne. Despite his ubiquitous success, my students were shocked.

“Do you have the mix tapes?” asked Michael, a sixteen-year-old ninth grader. “It’s all about the mix tapes.”

The following day, he had a stack of CDs for me. Version this, volume that, or no label at all.

And that’s just about all I listened to for the rest of the year.

3. My picture should be in the dictionary
next to the definition of definition

Lil Wayne slurs, hollers, sings, sighs, bellows, whines, croons, wheezes, coughs, stutters, shouts. He reminds me, in different moments, of two dozen other rappers. In a genre that often demands keeping it real via being repetitive, Lil Wayne is a chameleon, rapping in different octaves, paces, and inflections. Sometimes he sounds like a bluesman, sometimes he sounds like a Muppet baby.

Lil Wayne does his share of gangsta posturing, but half the time he starts chuckling before he gets through a line. He’s a ham. He is heavy on pretense, and thank God. Like Dylan, theatricality trumps authenticity.

And yet—even as he tries on a new style for every other song, it is always unmistakably him. I think of Elvis’s famous boast, “I don’t sound like nobody.” I imagine Wayne would flip it: “Don’t nobody sound like me.”


Every few weeks, Michael or another student—for this piece, the names of my students have been changed—would have a new burned CD that was supposedly Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne’s long-anticipated sixth studio album. “This one’s official,” they would say. I learned to be skeptical even as I enjoyed the new tracks. Nothing “official” would come around until school was out for summer, but Lil Wayne created hundreds of new songs in 2007 and the first half of 2008. Vibe magazine took the time to rank his best seventy-seven songs of 2007, and that was not a comprehensive list. These songs would end up on the Internet, which downloaders could snag for free. He also appeared for guest verses on dozens of other rappers’ tracks. He thusly managed to rate as the “Hottest MC in the Game” (according to MTV) and the “Best MC” (according to Rolling Stone), despite offering nothing new at the record store.

While Wayne claimed to do every song “at the same ability or hype,” the quality varied widely. He wrote nothing down (he was simply too stoned, he explained), rapping off the top of his head every time the spirit moved him, which was pretty much all the time. The results were sometimes tremendous and sometimes awkward, but that was half the fun. His oeuvre ended up being a sort of unedited reality show of his wily subconscious.

5. Ain’t ’bout to pick today to start running

During the first few days of school, Darius, one of my homeroom students, kept getting in trouble for leaving classes without permission. At the end of the second day, he pulled me aside to tell me why he kept having to use the bathroom: he had been shot in the leg three times and had a colostomy bag.

When I visited him in the hospital a few weeks later—he was there for follow-up surgery—he told me about the dealers who shot him. Darius’s speaking voice is a dead ringer for Lil Wayne’s old-man rasp. “I told them, Do what you need to do, you heard me? I ain’t scared, you heard me?”

Then he leaned over and pointed, laughing, to Sponge Bob on the television.


Lil Wayne, rumor has it, briefly went to the pre-Katrina version of our school. Same name and location, but back then it was a neighborhood high school. The building was wrecked in the storm. Our school, a charter school, is housed in modulars (my students hate this euphemism—they’re trailers) in the lot in back. Sometimes I went and peeked in the windows of the old building, and it looked to me like no one had cleaned or gutted it since the storm. It was like a museum set piece. There was still a poster up announcing an open house, coming September 2005.


I taught fifth-grade social studies, eighth-grade writing, ninth-grade social studies. Sometimes I felt inspired, sometimes deflated.

One time, a black student vehemently defended his one Arab classmate during a discussion about the Jena 6: “If you call him a terrorist, that’s like what a cop thinks about us.” Another day, when I was introducing new material about Africa, a student interrupted me—“I heard them niggas have AIDS!”

8. Pain, since I’ve lost you—I’m lost too

Our students are afraid of rain. A heavy morning shower can cut attendance in half. I once had a student write an essay about her experience in the Superdome. She wrote, without explanation, that she lost her memory when she lost her grandmother in the storm. I was supposed to correct the grammar, so that she would be prepared for state testing in the spring.

9. Keep your mouth closed and let your eyes listen

Lil Wayne is five-foot-six and wiry, sleepy-eyed, covered in tattoos, including teardrops under his eyes. His two camera poses are a cool tilt of the head and a sneer. He means to look sinister, I think, but there is something actually huggable about him. He looks like he could be one of my students—and some of my students like to think they look like him.

The other day, I saw Cornel West on television say that Lil Wayne’s physical body bears witness to tragedy. I don’t even know what that means, but I do think that Wayne’s artistic persona is a testament to damage.


One of my favorite Lil Wayne hooks is the chorus on a Playaz Circle song called “Duffle Bag Boy.” In the past year, he started singing more, and this was his best turn. He sounds a little like the neighborhood drunk at first as he warbles his way up and down the tune, but his singing voice has an organically exultant quality that seems to carry him to emotional delirium. After a while, he’s belting out instructions to a drug courier with the breathy urgency of a Baptist hymn. By the end of the song, the standard-order macho boast, “I ain’t never ran from a nigga and I damn sure ain’t ’bout to pick today to start running,” has been turned by Lil Wayne into a plea, a soul lament.


On New Orleans radio, it seems like nearly every song features Lil Wayne. My kids sang his songs in class, in the hallways, before school, after school. I had a student who would rap a Lil Wayne line if he didn’t know the answer to a question.

An eighth grader wrote his Persuasive Essay on the topic “Lil Wayne is the best rapper alive.” Main ideas for three body paragraphs: Wayne has the most tracks and most hits, best metaphors and similes, competition is fake.

12. My flow is art, unique—my flow can part a sea

Once I witnessed a group of students huddled around a speaker listening to Lil Wayne. They had heard these songs before, but were nonetheless gushing and guffawing over nearly every line. One of them, bored and quiet in my classroom, was enthusiastically, if vaguely, parsing each lyric for his classmates: “You hear that? Cleaner than a virgin in detergent. Think on that.”

Pulling out the go-to insult of high schoolers everywhere, a girl nearby questioned their sexuality. “Y’all be in to Lil Wayne so much you sound like girls,” she said.

They just kept listening. Then one of the boys was simply overtaken by a lyrical turn. He stood up, threw up his hands, and began hollering. “I don’t care!” he shouted. “No homo, no homo, but that boy is cute!”


Lil Wayne on making it: “When you’re really rich, then asparagus is yummy.”

Lil Wayne on safe sex: “Better wear a latex, cause you don’t want that late text, that ‘I think I’m late’ text.”

Lil Wayne on possibly less safe sex: “How come there is two women, but ain’t no two Waynes?”


Okay, but it’s not any one line, it’s that voice. Just the way he says “car in park” in his cameo on Mario’s “Crying Out for Me” remix; it’s a soft growl from another planet. It sounds like a threat and a comfort and a come-on all at once.

15. I am just a Martian, ain’t nobody else on this planet

Right before you become a teacher, you are told by all manner of folks that it will be 1) the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and 2) the best thing you’ve ever done. That seems like a recipe for recruiting wannabe martyrs. In any case, high stakes can blind you to the best moments. One day, I was stressing over what I imagined was my one-man quest to keep Darius in school and out of jail, and missed that a heated dispute between two fifth graders was escalating. Finally, I asked them what was wrong.

“Mr. Ramsey,” one of the boys pleaded, “will you please tell him that if you go into space for a year and come back to Earth that all your family will be dead because time moves slower in space?”

16. And to the kids: drugs kill. I’m acknowledging that.
But when I’m on the drugs, I don’t have a problem with that.

On one of his best songs, the super-catchy “I Feel Like Dying,” Lil Wayne barely exists. He always sounds high, but on this song he sounds as though he has already passed out.

A lot of the alarmism about pop music sending the wrong message to impressionable youth seems mostly overwrought to me, but I’ll cop to feeling taken aback at ten-year-olds singing, “Only once the drugs are done, do I feel like dying, I feel like dying.”

First time I heard a fifth grader singing this in falsetto, I said: “What did you say?”

He said: “Mr. Ramsey, you know you be listening to that song. Why you tripping?”

My students always ask me why I’m tripping at precisely the moments when the answer seems incredibly obvious to me.


After Michael cussed out our vice principal, I did a home visit. Michael was one of the biggest drug dealers in his neighborhood, and also one of my best students.

His mother was roused from bed. She looked half-gone, dazed. Then she started crying, and hugged me, pulled my head into her body. “No one’s ever cared like this,” she said. “Bless you. Thank you.”

Michael smiled shyly. “I just want to get in my right grade,” he told me.

“We’ll find a way to make that happen,” I told him.

A few weeks later, I gave him a copy of a New Yorker piece on Lil Wayne.

“Actually, that was good,” he said, later. “You teach me to write like that?”

18. Born in New Orleans, raised in New Orleans…

You live here as a newcomer and locals are fond of saying “this is New Orleans” or “welcome to New Orleans” by way of explanation. They use it to explain absurdity, inefficiency, arbitrary disaster, and transcendent fun. Enormous holes in the middle of major streets, say, or a drunken man dressed as an insect in line behind you at the convenience store.

Our challenge in the schools is to try to reform a broken system (the “recovery” in Recovery School District doesn’t refer to the storm—the district was created before Katrina, when the state took over the city’s failing schools) amidst a beautiful culture that is sometimes committed to cutting folks a little slack.

I have heard the following things speciously defended or excused by New Orleans culture: truancy, low test scores, drug and alcohol addiction, extended families showing up within the hour to settle minor school-boy scuffles, inept bureaucracy, lazy teachers, students showing up hungover the day after Mother’s Day….


Once, a girl’s older sister looked askance at one of my best students after school, and about five minutes later there was a full-on brawl in the parking lot. I lost my grip on the student I was holding back and she jumped on top of another student’s mother and started pounding.

On the pavement in front of me was a weave and a little bit of blood. One of my ninth graders was watching the chaos gleefully while I tried to figure out how to make myself useful. He was as happy as I’ve ever seen him. He shrugged beatifically. “This is New Orleans!” he shouted, to me, to himself, to anyone who might be listening.


Sometimes my students tell me they are sick of talking about the storm. Sometimes it’s all they want to talk about. Might be the same student. Some students have told me it ruined their lives, some students have told me it saved their lives. Again, sometimes the same student will say both.


From an interview in early 2006:

AllHipHop.com: On the album, did you ever contemplate doing a whole track dedicated to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy?

Lil Wayne: No, because I’m from New Orleans, brother. Our main focus is to move ahead and move on. You guys are not from New Orleans and keep throwing it in our face, like, ‘Well, how do you feel about Hurricane Katrina?’ I f—king feel f—ked up. I have no f—king city or home to go to. My mother has no home, her people have no home, and their people have no home. Every f—king body has no home. So do I want to dedicate something to Hurricane Katrina? Yeah, tell that b—h to suck my d—k. That is my dedication.

22. I am the beast! Feed me rappers or feed me beats.

Lil Wayne mentions Katrina in his songs from time to time. He has a track that rails against Bush for his response to the storm. But, to his credit, he doesn’t wallow in his city’s famous tragedy.

The world needs to be told, and reminded, of what happened here. But New Orleans is bigger and more spirited than the storm. So its favorite son can be forgiven for refusing to let it define him. For my students, Lil Wayne is good times and good memories, and enduring hometown pride. All they ask of him is to keep making rhymes, as triumphant and strange as the city itself.

23. Ever since I was little, I lived life numb

Michael stopped coming to school. His mother told me, “He’s a man now. There’s nothing more I can do.”

Darius got kicked out for physically attacking a teacher.

I have lots of happy stories, so I don’t mean to dwell on these two, but I guess that’s just what teachers do in the summer months, replay the ones that got away.


I read over this, and I got it all wrong. I fetishize disaster. I live in the best city in the world and all I can write about is hurricanes and dropouts.


One time, after they finished a big test I gave them last period, my students started happily singing Lil Wayne’s “La La La” on their way outside.

“Come on, Ramsey, sing along, you know it.”

And so I did. “Born in New Orleans, raised in New Orleans, I will forever remain faithful New Orleans….”

That I wasn’t from New Orleans didn’t much matter, so long as I was game to clap and dance and sing. It was a clear and sunny day, Lil Wayne was the greatest rapper alive, and school was out. It was time to have fun.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How to Start Cosplaying...

When I started Cosplaying in the fall of 2009, I piggybacked what i wanted to do on the halloween month..
I had watched about 4 to 5 episodes of doctor who, so I decided I wanted to Cosplay the 10th Doctor/ David Tennant.

I hadn't the foggiest notion where to start, so without focusing too hard, I looked at pictures.  There is an excellent picture Archive called Schillpages, that I accessed in order to look at Tennant.  I looked up as many pictures as i can find and even paused the screen on a bootlegged DVD someone had loaned me.

Here is what I came up with:\

Now, as you can see, it's not really good.  The coat is off.  the color of the suit is off, and I'm not anywhere close really, but here's the point--I'm trying.  That is the absolute truth.  My look is close, but I'm on the way, now the truth about this costume is that I'm not suited for this costume.  I don't look remotely like him.  So, a little later, I was completely embarrassed, when a much better looking Tennant Cosplayer came along and not one person wanted a picture with me.  IS this shallow?  Perhaps.  But it is a cold hard fact.  This is the cold hard fact that no cosplayer wants to utter and yet, it is uttered behind closed doors.   So, here is the complete answer.  You should play to your strengths.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Always Living in Spanish:

Recovering the Familiar, through Language

By Marjorie Agosin
In the evenings in the northern hemisphere, I repeat the ancient ritual that I observed as a child in the southern hemisphere:  going out while the night is still warm and trying to recognize the stars as it begins to grow dark silently.  In the sky of my country, Chile, that long and wide stretch of land that the poets blessed and dictators abused, I could easily name the stars:  the three Marias, the Southern Cross, and the three lilies, names of beloved and courageous women.

But here in the United States, where I have lived since I was a young girl, the solitude of exile makes me feel that so little is mine, that not even the sky has the same constellations, the trees and the fauna the same names or sounds, of the rubbish the same smell.  How does one recover the familiar?  How does one name the unfamiliar?  How can one be another of live in a foreign language?  These are the dilemmas of one who writes in Spanish and lives in translation. 

Since my earliest childhood in Chile I lived with the tempos and the melodies of a multiplicity of tongues:  German, Yiddish, Russian, Turkish, and many Latin songs.  Because everyone was from somewhere else, my relatives laughed, sang and fought in a Babylon of Languages.  Spanish was reserved for matters of extreme seriousness, for commercial transactions, or for illnesses, but everyone's mother tongue was always associated with the memory of spaces inhabited in the past:  the shtel, the flowering and vast Vienna avenues, the Minarets of Turkey, and the Ladino whispers of Toledo.  When my paternal grandmother sang old songs in Turkish, her voice and body assumed the passion of one who was there in the city of Istanbul, gazing by turns toward the west and the east.

Destiny and the always ambiguous nature of history continued my family's enforced migration, and because of it I, too, became one who had to live and speak in translation.  The disappearances, the torture, and  clandestine deaths in my country in the early seventies drove us to the United States, that other America that looked with suspicion at those who did not speak English and especially those who came from the supposedly uncivilized regions of Latin America.  I had left a dangerous place that was my home, only to arrive in a dangerous place that was not:  A high school in the small town of Athens, Georgia, where my poor English and my accent were the cause of ridicule and insult.  The only way I could recover my usurped country and my Chilean childhood was by continuing to write in Spanish, the same way my grandparents had sung in their own tongues in diasporic sites.

The new and learned English language did not fit with the visceral emotions and themes that my poetry contained, but my writing in Spanish I could recover fragrances, spoke rhythms, and the passion of my own identity.  Daily I felt the need to translate myself for the strangers living around me, to tell them why we were in Georgia, why we are different, why we had fled, why my accent was so thick, and why I did not look Hispanic.  Only at night, writing poems in Spanish, could I return to my senses, and sooth my own sorrow over what I had left behind.

This is how I became a Chilean poet who wrote in Spanish and lives in the Southern United States.  And then, one day, a poem of mine was translated and published in the English language.  Finally for the first time since I have left Chile, I felt I didn't have to explain myself. My poem expressed in another language spoke for itself... and for me.

Sometimes the austere sounds of English help me bear the solitude of knowing that I am foreign and so far away from those about whom I write.  I must admit I could like more opportunities to read in Spanish to people whose language and culture is also mine, to join in our common heritage and in the feast of our sounds.  I would also like readers if English to understand the beauty of the spoken word in Spanish, that constant flow of oxytonic and paraoxytonic syllables (Verde gue te quiero verde), * the joy of writing--of dancing-- in another language.  I believe that many exiles share the unresolvable torment of not being able to live in the language of their childhood.

I miss that undulating and sensuous language of mine, those baroque descriptions, the sense of being and feeling that Spanish gives me. It is perhaps for this reason that I have chosen and will always choose to write in Spanish.  Nothing else from my childhood world  remains.  My country seems to be frozen in gestures of silence and oblivion.  My relatives have died, and I have grown up not knowing a young generation of cousins and nieces and nephews.  Many of my friends were disappeared, others were tortured, and the most  fortunate, like me, became guardians of memory.  For us, to write in Spanish is to always be in active pursuit of memory.  I seek to recapture a world lost to me on that sorrowful afternoon when the blue electric sky and the Andean cordillera bade me farewell.  On that, my last Chilean day, I carried under my arm my innocence recorded in a little blue notebook I kept even then.  Gradually, that diary filled with memoranda, poems written in free verse, descriptions of dreams and of the thresholds of my house surrounded by cherry trees and gardenias.  To write in Spanish is for me a gesture of survival.  And because of translation, my meory has now become a part of the memory of many others.

Translators are not traitors, as the proverb says, but rather splendid friends in this great human community of language.