Literary Shelf

Kala Ramesh: In Conversation

Indian music being extempore in nature, has taught Kala Ramesh to think within and without the box — to be creative, daring and innovative and still adhere to the demands of an art form. Kala is keen to see children and adults in India take to haiku and its genres. In the last two years, she has conducted nearly 50 workshops and has had 90 hours of teaching haiku, senryu, haibun, tanka and renku to the under graduate students at Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, Pune.


Ramesh Anand: What are the different types of short poems you write?

Kala Ramesh: I started with haiku and in a week’s time began to write tanka, haibun, senryu, one-line haiku and even tried zip haiku. In November 2005 Norman Darlington introduced me to renku and we composed a Triparshva in India’s six seasons, which was published in Simply Haiku in summer issue 2006, Vol4:No2. After that I’ve taken part in many renku led by John Carley. John Carley was a pleasure to have as a sabaki [lead poet]. He knew so much about renku and the link and shift that is employed in renku. All these works are published in reputed journals.

RA: Why did you choose Japanese short forms over several other forms of poetry as your specialness?

KR: Sheer accident. My passion, from the time I can remember, was to become an Indian classical musician. I come from a family of writers – my mother is a Tamil poet, my siblings - two sisters and one brother, are all such good writers that I totally kept away from any sort of writing. My father, age 93, is still a practicing doctor and has written his life story with the help of my brother.

As late as October 2004, I began to write short articles and essays on Indian music. Before that, all I remember writing were school leave notes and debates for my two children. Nothing more! My brother did mention the existence of a type of poetry called ‘haiku’ as early as 1998, when we were seriously discussing Hindu philosophy, but that passed me by like an autumn breeze.

I again came upon haiku accidentally through an Indian poetry online site – - on 14th of January 2005. Down loaded their five lessons on haiku and started to write. Since I was then into serious classical music [as a vocalist], I tried writing haiku, all based on music without any connection to nature. Blissfully unaware of haiku's subtle nuances, I began to submit my work within a week. Every rejection made me look at my work through the editor’s eyes, and I think that helped a lot.

RA: Briefly tell us about your entry into global publications in short forms?

KR: My first submission was to Robert Wilson of Simply Haiku. He patiently pointed out to me that haiku have to have seasonal references and suggested that I study this genre more.  I sent him a second batch, two days later, which was promptly rejected. And, by that time I had happened to read a tanka. I dashed off some 21 tanka to Michael McClintock, editor of Simply Haiku on 31st January, all based on our visit to Kashid beach on the Arabian sea and was truly surprised to receive an email from Michael. The one he had chosen was:

I look at the blue sea
and the blue sky
in wonder . . . 
gently they turn
into night 

He said that if I could give him four more tanka as “strong” as this, then he would make a set for me in Simply Haiku. I was stupefied! This, according to me was my weakest, the rest of the tanka in my submission were ‘bejewelled’ with heavy words and complicated thoughts . . . In the end, nine of my tanka were chosen for the summer issue of Simply Haiku 05. A beginner’s luck, as they call it!

And then Stanford M. Forrester of Bottle Rockets published my first haiku in Fall 05, in the autumn issue of Simply Haiku, Robert Wilson showcased my work in “Haiku and Indian Music” and in Spring 06, I won The Heron’s Nest Award .

The Mainichi Daily News picked up several of my haiku, and my tanka began to be accepted by RibbonsModern English Tanka, and other journals. Contemporary Haibun online and Simply Haiku published my haibun. Alan Pizarelli encouraged my writing and picked many of my senryu for Simply Haiku, around that time.

RA: Who were the prominent Indian short forms poets during your entry into global publications?

KR: Angelee Deodhar of course. I contacted her when I was just 10 days into haiku. She introduced me to K Ramesh. I invited K Ramesh to my Hindustani vocal concert held at a  woman’s association, Chennai, in February 2005. I met Johannes Manjrekar at the first Haiku Festival I conducted at Pune in December 2006, sponsored by The Pune Municipal Corporation. All three were there much before me and I greatly admire their work

RA: Who are the prominent short forms poets in India today?

KR: Haiku in India is blooming. I think she’s soon going to be a force to reckon with in the world haiku scenario, for sure. There are too many brilliant haiku poets now for me to enumerate and I wish you all great success and joy on the haiku path. Even the youngsters are doing very well now. Special mention has to be made about the students who took the 2 day intensive haiku course at the Katha Utsav on 28 & 29th of December at Delhi, 2013, an initiative of Katha and CBSE to get children into creative writing. Some of the participant’s haiku have been published by the well known haiku poet, an’ya in Cattails – a haiku and tanka journal.

RA: Please share with us the honours you have won in short form poetry along with the honoured poems.

KR:  I used to enter contests the first two years, and then stopped it completely. It was too cumbersome to take a print out of our poems, then send them abroad with the money etc. I now enter contests only if they are free and they allow email submissions.
The awards and prizes I’ve won are:
mountain bridge —
           I pass through
the clouds
First place: The 5th Annual Poets' Choice Kukai 2007


spring breeze —
I catch the tune
she leaves behind

Heron's Nest Award – v8n2. Summer 2006
First runner-up in The Heron's Nest Reader's Awards - Volume VIII – 2006
big sky –The Red Moon Anthology of English language Haiku 2006
Tiny words - April - 2007
Winner – Snapshot Press Calendar Contest 2009
howling wind —
an autumn note within
the bamboo flute

The James W Hackett/BHS Annual International Award for Haiku – 07
Highly commended
receding wave…
crab holes breathe
the milky way
Honourable Mention 13th Mainichi Haiku Contest 2009
Devi temple . . .
along with the ants
I enter barefoot
2nd place in kukai - Sketchbook – May 2008
full moon
a glowing taj mahal
on river Yamuna
Third Prize, Mainichi Daily News Annual Selection 2008


lotus leaf...
a water droplet rolls
the moon
Honourable Mention, Mainichi Daily News Annual Selection 2008
sudden rains -
     bringing to life
the child in me
Honourable Mention, 14th Mainichi Haiku Contest 2010
where are the hills
that mount the horizon up . . . ?
this hammering rain

Honourable Mention, 16th Mainichi Haiku Contest 2012
sunset . . .
the cuckoo repeats
his morning song
The Heron’s Nest - Volume IX, Number 4: December, 2007.
Winner – Snapshot Press Calendar Contest 2009
the year passes . . .
longing for cranes
to colour the sky
Acorn #20, March 08
Winner – Snapshot Press Calendar Contest 2009
if I'd had
just this one bridge to cross . . .
cherry blossom park
Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival. Sakura Award - 2011
weathered field—
slowly coming to terms
with my aborted child
Shintai ( New Style ) The Ten Best , Third Prize
World Haiku Review Volume 6 issue 3 May 2008
liquid sky . . .
a steel bucket hits
the well water
Notes from the Gean - Issue #4, , March 2010.
FAVOURITE HAIKU chosen by Jane Reichhold, spring 2012
London morning dew —
fumes through my nostrils and mouth
like an Eastern dragon
Mainichi Daily News 1st Jan 07
World Haiku Club showcase: Haiku (#87) 05/01/07
new year’s eve
all that I could have left
unsaid . . .
Moonset, the newspaper
Featured haijin – moonset, spring/summer issue 08
wild violets . . . 
      he finally agrees
to the path I took 
Winner: Potpourri Haiku Desk Calendar December 2012, India

the struggle
to get a lily to stay
in water after all
Roadrunner Haiku Journal – 10.3 October 2010
Roadrunner’s Best Ten: 2010
how little 
I know of bird calls
distant thunder
The Akita International Haiku Award, First prize September 2013
The Second Japan-Russia Haiku Contest
Kala’s  book titled “Haiku” brought out by Katha in December 2010 was awarded the Honourable Mention for Best Book for Children: The Haiku Society of America’s Mildred Kanterman Memorial Merit Book Awards, 2011
Winner: The Snapshot Press eChapbook Award 2012 (UK) for the collection of her tanka poems “the unseen arc”. It should be go online by spring 2014.
the split-second
flash of a hawk's swoop 
I wait 
for the sky to return 
to its own blue 
Mandy’s Pages - Inaugural Tanka Fest 2013 (Certificate of Merit) 
Genjuan International Haibun Contest 2012 (Japan). An (Cottage) Prize for the haibun: The Blue Jacaranda
Our Rengay [Tracy Koretsky, Garry Gay and Kala Ramesh] "The Last Word" won the first place, along with the prize money of $100 in the 2011 HPNC Rengay Contest, USA.

RA: Tell us about your experience in teaching haiku for children in India.

KR: Absolutely wonderful! At present I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. Children take to haiku like fish takes to water. I’m sometime stupefied, amazed at the quality of their haiku, that for days on end I don’t ever attempt to write any haiku, for whatever I write doesn’t seem even half as fresh as theirs!
All said and done it’s a very big challenge and commitment, for the participants in their enthusiasm send me dozens of haiku for my *opinion and feedback*. It gets tough. So I keep reminding them of my favourite quote of the month, make it quote of the year: “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” – Ernest Hemingway


More by :  Ramesh Anand

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