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TANKA TAKE HOME: 13th December 2023 - Know Your Editors

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

hosts: Firdaus Parvez, Kala Ramesh, Priti Aisola & Suraja Menon Roychowdhury

Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!


featured editor:  Kala Ramesh December 13, 2023


This month we decided to go with the theme "Know Your Editors": The people responsible for your poems being published. We hope you enjoy their poems and a little about them and their 'tanka journey'.


This week we have Kala Ramesh who needs no introduction, her journey into Tanka is so inspiring that we had to share it. Kala has a mountain of work published in countless journals, magazines, and anthologies both online and in print; her latest book on tanka "the forest i know" was published by Harper Collins in 2021. What an incredible accomplishment. She's probably bagged all the awards of the haikai world too. I could go on and on but here we are for her tanka journey. For that we chose to share excerpts of an interview of hers by Tanka Online in 2007, we've chosen to only share the questions relating to tanka followed by some of her favourite tanka and tanka-prose.



January 2007


Tanka Online is pleased to announce our latest update, featuring Indian musician and poet, Kala Ramesh. An interview with Kala by Amelia Fielden, “A Song in the Air: an Indian Musician's Path to Haiku and Tanka,” recounts how Kala started writing the Japanese forms and also how her music background and the Indian concept of rasa shapes her poetry. Rasa, according to Kala, “means the aesthetic emotion — a flavour, the distilled essence of the mood created in the listener’s mind . . . the residue left in our minds after we appreciate a piece of art.” 

Excerpts from this interview.


Amelia Fielden: When and why did you start writing tanka? What do you like, and appreciate most, about tanka?


Kala Ramesh: My first submission was to Robert Wilson of Simply Haiku on 20th January 2005. 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 twenty-one tanka to Michael McClintock of Simply Haiku on 31st January, all based on our visit to the 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 2005. I often wonder if I had changed my style of writing so that Michael would accept my tanka. If I had been around these genres for a longer time, read them, and absorbed them, then I could have perhaps changed to suit the demands. I personally feel, one thing for sure, it was a shot in the dark and it seemed to have worked. A beginner’s luck, as they call it!


I love those two extra lines that we have in tanka, where we can show the emotion, the rasa, as we call it in Indian arts. A good tanka often reminds me of our ‘jod ragas’ (joint melodies) where two different melodies or ragas, combine to form a whole and to sing it well requires years of practice and perseverance — tanka is the same, in my opinion. We have the upper and the lower verse and getting them right is never easy. 


Amelia Fielden: You state that you write “haiku, tanka, senryu, haibun and renku". That is a very broad spectrum of Japanese poetic forms. Do you have a preference for one of these forms? If so, please explain your preference.  My impression, from your involvement in the world haiku movement, and so on, is that you are more committed to haiku than to tanka, but I may be wrong. Please comment.


Kala Ramesh: I’m aware that in Japan, a haiku poet won’t come near a tanka and vice versa, but outside of Japan, we do see poets indulging in more than one genre of this art form. In Indian Classical music, we have a variety of styles and forms, like khayal (pure classical), thumri (love songs), bhajans (songs of a devotional nature) dadra, kajri (light classical), and many more. A classical musician is expected to have a mastery over all these forms if she is to hold her own on the concert circuit.


I never knew of the existence of haiku forums or workshopping. It was a lonely struggle and I started off simultaneously with haiku, haibun, tanka, senryu, zip haiku, one-line haiku and renku, because everything was equally new to me. I personally think each genre feeds into the other, enriching the root source of one's creativity.


Amelia Fielden: Do you write haiku and tanka in parallel, more or less all the time? I am thinking about poet Beverley George, who has told us that, although she also writes both haiku and tanka, she does not feel comfortable doing so simultaneously; she apparently has periods of alternating concentration on the two forms.


Kala Ramesh: I guess haiku goes on all the time in my mind and tanka happens on and off, and I’ve never really analysed when one comes in and the other goes out, but the magic happens! Since 2008, I’ve been one of the editors of Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka – and we get to read a lot of tanka all the time.  So now I can say, I’m into tanka as much as any other form!


But one thing I’ve noticed in my writing methodology. I used to hurriedly jot down haiku or type out a rough three/five-line verse on my cell phone, then come home and transfer it onto my computer. I don’t do that anymore! Instead, I watch the scene more minutely and try to visualise the scene in my mind and leave. The picture is what I recollect when I try to transfer it into a poem.  I find this gets me closer to truth than the other method.


Amelia Fielden: The Indian words and references which you sprinkle through your tanka add much to the originality, authenticity, and power. However, sometimes they obscure the meaning for readers from a different culture. I for one feel I would be able to appreciate the following two tanka more if you had provided short footnotes on the significance of Ganga, and the meanings of dhyaan and maya.


even Ganga

needs to carry the burden

of her past

still a longing in me

to disown mine


the oneness

of consciousness

in dhyaan

joining as light as ever

a cuckoo's song


truth lies

embedded in maya

and beneath the veil

once lifted

               truth lies


How do you feel about adding footnotes in such cases?


Kala Ramesh: Thanks, Amelia for those words of appreciation. They were sheer music to my ears!


Now coming to the second half of your question. To a Hindu, a bath in the holy river Ganga means that a person is washed pure of all the sins, having said that, the Ganga over the years has become so polluted that a massive campaign is going on to ‘purify’ Ganga. To a reader who is unaware of this, the above tanka has no significance — how can a tiny footnote help? Maya – means illusion, but that word leaves so much to be desired. Hindu philosophy revolves around Maya, and multiple thesis are written on it — how would a mere footnote help?


For that matter, there are so many tanka and haiku rooted in Western religion and thoughts that fly above my head! And I find that there are two ways of going about it, either I leave it and move on or I go to the net and find out, which would be much more satisfying than a footnote, perhaps?

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A big thank you to the editors of Tanka Online, for giving me this opportunity to talk about my being here as a poet! Special thanks to Amelia for her thoughtful questions in this interview

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Some of her favourite tanka:



she wears

silk saris with grace

bound into a cocoon

should the silkworm be burnt

alive for that


English Tanka: Summer 2007, Vol. 1, No. 4



the om

on our front doors,

hers ornamental

and mine in plain wood

reveals us inside out


Skylark: 6:2, Winter 2018



the nemesis

of growing old –

looking everywhere

for my glasses

but in the mirror


Ribbons: Winter 2014/2015



each second

each breath sustains

my life

a chariot wheel touching

the earth at one point alone


Presence Journal, # 77 November 2023



his breath

through the shehnai

shapes the raga …

on night's inverted stage

the stars keep beat             

                                                         

      For Ustad Bismillah Khan


Skylark’s second anthology _ its own place ~ a mindscape of tanka 

2019



tiger tiger

dwindling rapidly —

my grandchild

one day will know you

only from pictures


Tanka 2020 (Red Moon Press Anthology)



pillars of wind

reach the night sky ...

blurred

the half-tucked moon sheds

what light it can


A Hundred Gourds: 5:3 June 2016 



i spend months    

       learning to tune

my instrument …

a fakir down the street

is one with his ektara


A Hundred Gourds 5:2. March 2016



i stand 

barefooted before God 

my slippers 

outside the temple gate 

along with my ego


A Hundred Gourds – December 2011



an evening

of tangled thoughts …

through branches

even this rugged moon

looks tattered at the edges


American Tanka:  June 2012



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 (Certificates of Merit)



you trample

over my feelings

each time

i return a little less

unsure of myself


Shreve Memorial Library's Electronic Poetry Network - Monday (July 12, 2010)



i gather

one moon

after another

into my hands …

the river keeps giving


Ribbons, Tanka Society's Journal, March 2008 



Rebuttal


the wheel of time

rotates in its rhythm

through the year

the moon

on an ever-ending journey


ever-ending?

excuse me, shouldn’t it be ‘never-ending’?

the moon is forever ending its journey but has

never been able to, for where is the end in a circle


i row my boat

to reach the other side

only to find

the other side

is where i started


contemporary haibun online – April 2023



The Artist


          thirty years

          just painting

          lilies …

          a story behind each stroke

          of Monet's white paint


Maya remembers her first concert, which she performed ten years back and which is still as fresh as the breath she inhales: She begins with a slow composition in raga Shyam Kalyan. As she unfolds each note and works around the permutations and combinations of the raga, she sees heads nodding; she’s eager to give her best. Her glides with sweeping gamaks turn out well. Her fast passages quicken the pulse of the audience. That perfect note, which when she was a student seemed like a razor’s edge, suddenly flattens out like a tabletop. Sprawling and vast is the space. Her play with the lyrics and the synchronisation of the raga with the rhythmic cycle all blend into one whole, coming together effortlessly. It is an open-air auditorium and it is as if the night has turned into an inverted stage, with stars keeping the beat. She feels each note run through her fingers, like touching good old mother earth. The warmth it lends to one’s being. The expansive freedom, yielding more space within and without.


Maya takes a fresh, deep breath and holds a high note in perfect pitch and in perfect balance and rhythm. The tabla player, her percussionist, nods his head. A deep surge of emotion blinds her vision. Her eyes close, disconnecting her from the world around her while she remains alive to the void that fills her being.


           with feet

           pushing the ground,

           she takes wing … 

          the sky of a thousand ragas

           draws her in like magic


contemporary haibun online – 16:3, December 2020 



Prison


one card leans on the other until the hand wavers


he says our marriage       

will work if the ‘s’ in she       

remains silent       

where would the moon be       

without the sun


       my mother speaks               

of a coming together               

of Shiva and Parvathi               

she bows to that one               

with hands in namaste


      genderqueer                       

him, her, s/he                       

or they —                       

my mind cluttered                       

with stuck-on labels


your voice sings even without lyrics champa blossom



First published in Witness: Poetry of Dissent from the Margins’ Print Edition, India, February 2021.

Reprinted: contemporary haibun online, 18.1, April 2022



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Important: Since we're swamped with submissions, and our editors are only human, mistakes can happen. Please, please, remember to put your name, followed by your country, below each poem, even after revisions. It really helps our editors; they won't have to type it in, saving them from potential typos. Thanks a ton!


Please also, in case of tanka-art, tell us if it's your own picture or someone else's. We will be unable to accept it otherwise.


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The challenge for this week:  

I will sum up my feelings about Kala's poetry with a tweak to her tanka: i gather one moon after another into my hands Kala, the river, keeps giving ... her poems and her passion for poetry rub off on all who come in contact with her. It is such a joy and privilege to be in her company as an editor of haikuKATHA. Thank you Kala for your wisdom and inspiration. The challenge for the week is 'inspiration', use it as you wish or write outside the prompt. Let us know your thoughts on the poems shared. Most of all have fun!

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And remember – tanka, because of those two extra lines, lends itself most beautifully when revealing a story. And tanka prose is storytelling.


Give these ideas some thought and share your tanka and tanka-prose with us here. Keep your senses open, observe things that happen around you and write. You can post tanka and tanka-prose outside these themes too.


An essay on how to write tanka: Tanka Flights here 


PLEASE NOTE

1. Post only one poem at a time, only one per day.

2. Only 2 tanka and two tanka-prose per poet per prompt.

Tanka art of course if you want to.

3. Share your best-polished pieces.

4. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written. Let it simmer for a while.

5. Post your final edited version on top of your original verse.

6. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems.

We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished tanka and tanka-prose (within 250 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly magazine. <> <>

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