A butterfly alights on a vine climbing outside the front door of Delia Nakayama’s Bywater apartment. A melody recorded by Ella Fitzgerald drifts from the back of the shotgun, crowded with two pianos, stacks of books, sheet music and racks of Mardi Gras costumes.
The home is the highly creative environment where this Japanese-American poet raised in the poetic epicenter of San Francisco – finds her muse.
“I’ve written just about every day of my life,” she said. Nakayama also sings her own musical compositions, loosely accompanied on the piano by Peter Nu, her life partner.
“I’m half-Japanese and Peter is Serbian-Czech from London. We have mixed heritage we can vibe with multiple sensibilities,” she explained.
As a young girl, she dreamed she was standing on a wrought iron balcony – an architectural element rarely seen on the West Coast.
Years later, she followed her intuition and in 2003 took a train to New Orleans because this might be a place to explore her artistry.
Nakayama has participated in poetry readings in both cities. Her poems encompass subjects as diverse as her mixed heritage, women, children, old age, poverty, class and New Orleans. Some of it is deeply meditative, she said.
“New Orleans was my soul connection.”
But she has also been an educator for 20 years, sharing her gift of creative poetic expression with adults and children. She loves inspiring others and seeing “that rush of excitement” as novices discover their own voices.
Juanita Jackson, who attended Nakayama’s workshop held at the Martin Luther King Library, called those poetry-writing sessions “enlightening.”
Jackson had always assumed that poems needed to rhyme, but soon learned to write prose and haiku.
“She would give me that extra push that I needed,” recalls Jackson who has since performed two of her own poems before a live audience at the June Loving Festival.
Each person has a story, struggles and victories, Nakayama said. “My goal is to allow each person I teach, regardless of their age, to express him/herself freely with words and language -- and to acquire the skills to do that effectively.”
Nakayama has conducted three Poets & Writers workshops in New Orleans. One, held at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, evolved into a weekly a women’s group, The Well.
“Writing is something that brings comfort and nourishment to the soul,” said Holly Woodie who heads The Well. “And writing in a group has an energy.”
Starting Sept. 10, Nakayam will host another workshop specifically for teenagers at the New Orleans Public Library’s Children’s Resource Center Branch. Teens sometimes require more sensitive instruction than adults, but Nakayama creates a positive environment that is nurturing and non-judgmental.
“Often, teenagers’ insights are particularly clear and even searing. It’s as if they are able to open a secret window into the human experience for just a certain period of time,” Nakayama said. “It’s a difficult and a beautiful time of life and discovery.”
One of her adult students, Paul Benton, appreciated the group support, reading and writing poetry at St. Anna’s.
“I think writing poetry saved my life as a kid,” he said. “It allowed me to employ my imagination.”
Every student learns differently so Nakayama adjusts her teaching style accordingly.
“For some, their words come out like liquid fire. For others, they need coaxing. I have found that everyone can write, and well, if they are given the chance and the tools to do so,” she said.