Poet Of The Week

Ramya Ramana

     March 6–12, 2023

Ramya Ramana is an award-winning American author, poet and lyricist. She was born, raised and currently resides in New York. Ramana won the NY Knicks Poetry Slam, which awarded her a full-tuition scholarship to St. John’s University. Soon after, she became the Youth Poet Laureate of NYC. She has since performed at events such as the US Open, Tribeca Film Festival, TV One’s Verses and Flow, Pharrell’s Adidas campaign, SONY TV’s Asian Women in the Arts Awards, the Immigrant Gala, the Grand Slam Finals at the Apollo Theater, Celebrate Brooklyn!, the Source magazine’s SOURCE360 Festival and many more. Her work can be found on the Poetry Foundation and Academy of American Poets websites and in Seventh Wave and the Southampton Review. Ramana published her first collection of poems through Penmanship Books, with a release at Lincoln Center. In addition to performing and writing, she has also worked as an educator and mentor for young poets and young women. She recently received her MFA in creative writing from the New School. Ramana’s current endeavors include running a blog through Medium and working as a librettist for an operetta film. Her hope is to remain a student of wonder and to explore truth sincerely through her work and her life. On Monday, March 13, she will lead the Brooklyn Poets Yawp.

1945 then 1971 then 1993 then 1995 then 2018

when ma makes the fifth dish for the day’s first meal                i wonder where her hands romance to         who it calls home           outside of its role           as a wageless worker          don’t we all need community      even God lives           inside of a trinity               the tenderness of her wrist crying out for a friend      her mind      a distant clock    i say i have lived alone and                an award appears at my front door           a gift clothed in tendons         in the chest of the tendons there is a woman          before me      who is brown enough           and inside her    another         both unwanted and rummaging   through all her sense of self to beget           the forest’s sap           the luggage of the earth              stickiness hoarding her fingers                you can’t wash this away with water          this tin canned juice of              survival     my fingers are an anthem to colonization         i find even the sloppiest palms red white      and blue           can you find me a home somewhere greener than this blue         i want to find      the woods again                and the ice cream man who’s been comin’ around here since we were 6                the routine smile of his immigrant                i know much like me                he’d like to forget where he comes from        i know much like me      he’d   want   the   dirt   of   our      fingernails to find it           so i lick my wounds and                the metal aftertaste lives in my      mouth           the hungry blood distills everything i speak:         the move to Long Island,      the mother whose hands whose first language has always been sacrifice    with bloodshed and saliva                the rosewood sofas           the chewed nails           the coarse hands that fed me           the baby’s fingers wrapped around mine      her instinct to name me protector                the trees ready to fall off and into someone’s arms             the blood foaming of the path    the    lemur that martyred into the gory tree           left a piece of itself in my arms           a spray painted      silver lining           and the sweet sap that i will give my daughter’s daughters                through         blue silk ribbons        then she will know           the fingers are righteous      the   vile   has    been uncloaked before           and again


Brooklyn Poets · Ramya Ramana, "1945 then 1971 then 1993 then 1995 then 2018"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem came to me quite quickly, and at a pace and with an ease that I don’t often experience when I sit with an empty page. I was thinking about generations, about the relationships between generations and their impacts. It went through many rounds of editing since the first sitting, and since its publication. I originally came to this as a poem centered primarily on generations and then I realized it was about sacrifice as well, and the thread of that wanted/needed to come out more.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve been working as a librettist on an operetta film. It’s interesting—I’ve always had a love for songwriting but doing it in this capacity has put me in a position of surrendering what I know about writing and music. I’ve been studying music theory and opera for this project and I feel as if I am learning a new alphabet, a new mathematical formula, a new language altogether.

What’s a good day for you?

A quiet day—without any external noise to interfere with my internal voice. A delicious smoothie to start off the day, and trying a new hidden-gem mom-and-pop shop for lunch.

What brought you to New York?

The doctors and my mom at Flushing Hospital in Queens. 🙂

Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?

Home is New York. Born in Queens, lived there for a few years, then raised in Long Island. I have lived here my entire life (between Long Island and NYC, that is). I think every place is a world within the world, but these spaces literally include the world … that has to be my favorite part of being able to have this environment characterize and colorize my worldview.

Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

I spent two months in Cobble Hill and a month in Bushwick when I needed to sublet during the summers between college years. I really enjoyed being by the water in Cobble Hill during such a tumultuous time in my life. I’d run there and lounge adjacent to the ocean to still my mind.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I think a poetry community looks different to me during different seasons; the definition is one that evolves. I began doing poetry in youth spaces and that was my primary community then. Now, I connect with a poet as a person first—if we connect as people before poetry, then we are naturally drawn towards the act of effortless, honest, genuine belonging. I have found it at a young age, and yet its meaning continues to grow and I continue to find it in new capacities. My writing community during my MFA years was different from my community as a teen, and now that I’m out of both of those spaces, it changes yet again. I always try to choose the person before the gift; then the gift, or the exchange of gifts, becomes a bonus to the friendship. A poetry community is a space of curious people who come together to ask more questions, seek more answers and be moved more deeply and profoundly by the craft.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Tina Chang is the first person that comes to mind. She was tremendously generous to me when I was a youth poet; she sat with my poems, offered advice, provided encouragement. I am grateful for her tenderness and strength and her ability to be a poet in all that she does. We would write emails back and forth and I always admired that even her emails were written and structured like poems. It gave me permission to break the expectation of how a thing should be written and allow myself to imagine how it could look.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I have so many. I began poetry in Urban Word NYC and we were spoiled by the gift of attention from some of the most brilliant and talented writers of our generation. To have access to that level of greatness allowed all of us teens in that space to rise up and consider ourselves great too. Carvens Lissaint, Tahani Salah, Mahogany Browne, among others …

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I’m always swept away by a Mary Oliver book. The last book I read of hers was Dream Work. I had just come back from a deeply spiritual and transformative trip, and her words felt to me like tangible expressions of supernatural realities.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Oh gosh, too many: Augustine’s The City of God, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, just to name a few.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I used to be a straight-through reader, three books a week, reading between classes, on train rides, before bed, etc. Now, I have to choose to engage with a book until I’m done. Truth be told, I’m in chapter three of several books. I like random, intuitive choices while reading … I like the spontaneity of choosing a book by what excites me in that moment—it feels adventurous and childlike. Physical books alllllll the way! Nothing in the world like the smell, touch, taste, feel, sound of a book. I am not a note-taker, though I should be.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’ve been really interested in writing a ghazal; I haven’t quite done it yet. I’ve been studying the history of ghazals and reading lots of different ghazals and would like to try my hand at one soon.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Cafés, on a train, Central Park, Smith Point Beach, an Airbnb somewhere far away from a city and hopefully civilization, in my dreams, on a city corner … wherever wonder is invited and being childlike is permissible.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I have a newfound love for Greenpoint. Not quite sure why yet. My body feels at ease there.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the filets of love waiting to scorch a hot-stoned pan,

And what I relish and release you receive in hope,

For every poem that holds me as good as it keeps you.

Why Brooklyn?

Because it has produced the sounds of an era and continues to create future histories.