Anitha Varma's The Salt of a Distant Sea: a review by Akila G.

Published by Nomadic Books

123 pages

ISBN – 978-81-948395-3-8

Price: INR 250/-

The book is available at: https://tinyurl.com/buyhaiku

The Salt of a Distant Sea by Anitha Varma. Reviewing Editor: Akila G.


When a book of haiku selects this title that happens to be a phrase of a haiku from this collection, the author has already kindled the reader to open his eyes, take a deep breath, and delve into sensorial perceptions.

Anitha Varma is a seasoned haijin who has been exploring this form for a decade now and ‘The Salt of a Distant Sea’ is her debut collection with over 500 haiku.

moon slips

silently into the pond

no ripples The first haiku sets the tone of the book inviting the reader to immerse in its offerings, the silence, its sounds and its synesthesia. A few other haiku demonstrate this too.


he holds her hand

a tad longer than needed

bangle seller


which teases the sense of touch and sound with the tinkle of bangles.


traffic jam

the route a raindrop takes

on the window


paints the silence in the backdrop of noisy vehicles.


Anitha’s deft choices of images own the aesthetics of her haiku; be it minimalism or seasonal references.

matrayoshka dolls the many me’s in me

This monoku personalizes the image of a ‘matrayoshka doll’.

Consider this one:

each one so different snowflakes

One would want to absorb the silence of the snowflakes and nod in agreement.

Moon is a popular kigo and one of the most malleable of images. Anitha’s love for the moon can be seen in her choice of images, fresh and novel in combination with the phrase.

doctor’s verdict a no again snow moon

Here the snow moon of winter juxtaposes as end of hope:

wolf moon eclipse

still searching

for the elusive me


The ‘wolf moon’ or the first full moon of January and a new year; in that light looking within to search for the hidden self, offers a perfect juxtaposition.


wanderer moon…

would the jacarandas bloom

without me


Here, the poet, wandering like the moon, wonders if she would miss watching the Jacarandas bloom which, happens between March and May, the early summer months in India.

mead moon…

my evening glory reaches

to the sky


The mead moon of summer solstice when the evening glory is in its full bloom.


new moon…

shadows have

no shapes


This haiku holds the surprise element in shadows in L2 making one wonder what would new moon or no moon know anything about shadows till L3 reveals it all.


gibbous moon night

the tree trunk makes

a scary shadow


The above ku captures the time and the amount of light present just enough for a shadow. Both words – moon and night become essential to hold the verse.


A few other moon ku that had some beautiful juxtaposed images are:

inconstant moon

once more he forgets our

anniversary


worm moon…

the way his smiles

make or break my day


full worm moon

the roadside Buddha

festooned in spider milk


The image in the last verse explores both the horizontal and vertical axis- a clear picture of Buddha and a life thriving and springing around it.


Talking of exploring the horizontal axis in haiku, I share a few from the collection that demonstrate this aspect.


dandelion fluff

still the urge to fly

without wings


The above haiku opens up possibilities tied to a single fragment; the urge to fly in a wounded bird or the urge for dreams to take off or just the dream to become a bird and savour the sky. The fragment of dandelion fluff carries karumi or the lightness of the verse.


painting project

she asks me to show her

the colour of wind


The fragment in this haiku ties down the abstractness of the phrase. It becomes a question: does the wind have a colour? That may hold ‘No’ or ‘Why not’ for an answer in the perspective of a painting project.


critical mass

as much rain as a lotus leaf

can hold


The lotus leaf carries the weight of this haiku.


Anitha has quite a few delectable senryu too carrying the essentials of karumi as well as depth.


flu season

the steam from the inhalator

looks like the genie


The lightness of this verse is bound to bring smiles as one fights the flu.


city smog

the sun a deep yellow

in all the potholes


Another vertical axis plays in this visual image that brings out the impact of smog contrasting the deepening sun.


chittering squirrels

the coffee table between us

light years long


A light-feathered L1 that gathers weight in the phrase. The coffee table, a relative measure of distance and contrast that links to images of chatter and silence.


The collection is no less than a personal diary, of sorts, laid open for readers to walk in and out with their takeaways. This review barely manages to showcase a handful of poems in this book that rightly hinges on its opening verse:


dreamcatcher those that get away


Hope to see more from Anitha Varma.





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