Haiku by K Ramesh reproduced by permission of the author.
In this post, I interview one of India’s earliest recruits to haiku and tanka, K. Ramesh, who began writing in these genres since 2000. Currently teaching at Pathashaala (an initiative of the J Krishnamurti Foundation), he has balanced teaching and writing, not just Japanese forms but also free verse. He has brought out two anthologies, and his haiku are regularly published in haiku journals of great repute.
Raamesh: How exactly did your journey in haiku begin? You state in your interview with Ramesh Anand that the internet played a role in discovery and adoption. How big was the role, and how has it evolved today?
Ramesh: My interest in literature started when I was in college. I used to read the works of D H Lawrence and existential writers like Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, both in Tamil and English.
It was writer Sujatha who introduced me to haiku. He wrote many articles on haiku in Tamil literary magazines. The poems of the Japanese masters he used in his writing spoke a lot of the significance of the ‘aha moment’ and brevity. It was at the same time that I started writing poetry. I was thrilled when my first poem was selected by Nissim Ezekiel for the magazine Indian Pen. In the year 2000, we got an internet connection in the school where I worked. I started searching for articles on haiku and haiku magazines as well. This search led me to the practice of writing haiku. My first haiku was accepted by Ai Li, editor of Still, a haiku journal published in England. From then onwards, I continued to send my haiku to editors all over the world, and my poems began to appear in journals periodically. I am happy to mention here that some of our (Indian haijin’s) works have appeared in the anthology titled ‘The First Hundred Years of Haiku’ brought out by Norton Publishing Company published in 2013.
carnival over . . .
a little girl’s sandal
(The Heron’s Nest, September 2012)
Raamesh: You have written across the many styles of haiku popular today — shasei, gendai and contemporary ELH among others. Do you have a preferred style?
Also, different journals (and their editors) have different sensibilities; you’ve said before that one cannot stick too close to any one journal. So do you write with an aim to submitting a particular haiku or tanka to a particular journal, or do you decide that afterwards?
Ramesh: One doesn’t think of styles while composing a haiku. To me, styles do not matter so much as the recognition of a mild surprise and the urge to jot down the cause of the experience. The writing works if I am really touched by something I witness and I then write. What I do after writing is craftsmanship. It comes through practice.
a garden lizard drinks
the dewdrop on a leaf
(The Heron’s Nest, June 2014)
Raamesh: You have stated many times that the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti have influenced you a great deal — you cite him saying “He considered ‘looking’ an art in itself”.
How difficult or easy was it for you to reconcile JK’s outlook with the haiku sensibility?
Ramesh: J Krishnamurti emphasised on this question: can you go through an experience completely without an experiencer? This manner of looking also works when we are in a state of observation as a haiku poet. I feel haiku moments happen when the mind is open. When we are fully present while we go through an experience. There is a possibility of becoming acutely aware of the moment.
I let the fish
bite my toes
Raamesh: Teaching and writing are often in conflict with each other, each requiring complete dedication and different skills. How have you balanced these in your life? Has your writing influenced the way you teach, or vice-versa?
Ramesh: As a teacher, I have begun to believe in facilitating a learning process rather than teaching per se in class (the chalk and board). The teacher creates room for students to engage in exploring, thinking and raising questions. I feel it’s the same when it comes to composing haiku. It is the cause of the experience that stands out, which resonates in the mind of the reader. The poet is not there anymore!
the sound of pencils
sketching on the cliff
(From Pebble To Pebble)
Raamesh: You’ve said in your interviews and essays that you love walking and bicycling, especially around nature, and that that’s where you get your inspiration from. Do tell us some of your most memorable walks or bicycle trips.
For many of us in urban areas, this is a dream at best. So what would you advise us to do?
Ramesh: I do enjoy cycling. But they are not exotic trips. I used to go from my house to the beach and back.
I do not recall any memorable trips. But there were moments in the cycle trips that were memorable, and those have become haiku:
My advice: if you drive a car, often you get to see only other vehicles, new models or old in front of you. If you are on a bicycle, you can pedal by the side of the road, you get to see the bright flame of the forest; on a low branch a golden oriole; or get the scent of fresh loaves as you pass by a bakery. Also, you find a new rhythm in your life. Occasionally at least, leave your car behind, tap your bicycle seat and go pedalling, whistling a familiar tune. I am sorry if it sounds like an advice! 🙂
village in the hills
a monkey looks into
the bike’s mirror
(First Published by Frogpond)
Raamesh: You have published several books of your haiku, and been translated into many languages (including Irish!). How has your experience been? You’ve also said that you don’t send your work to haiku to journals as much nowadays. So for those conflicted between publishing their own anthology and submitting to journals, would you share your experience with both?
Ramesh: My works have appeared in magazines published in India and abroad. Only two of my haiku collections have come out:
1. Soap Bubbles
2. From Pebble To Pebble
My first book, Soap Bubbles published by the Red Moon Press, was launched by author Shreekumar Varma, and it was Glory Sasikala Franklin (the moderator of Glorioustimes) who sponsored the event in 2007. I take this opportunity to thank them again for supporting my literary endeavours.
It is necessary to send your works to high standard haiku journals because your poems get rejected. Rejection helps. You learn to write. However, it’s not good spending time reading e-journals to the extent that you miss a beautiful sunset! It’s better to walk around with a small notebook and a pencil.
cool evening –
a fish nudges a pebble
in the aquarium
(First published by Tiny Words)
Raamesh: Apart from haiku, you also dabble in free verse. You’ve mentioned that the two have different idioms – haiku restrains you from expressing emotions directly, while in a free verse you can pour them out, er, freely. Many poets I’ve known have had difficulty with these different mind-sets, sometimes keeping them in separate mental silos. Do you do the same, or do you let them cross-fertilise each other?
Ramesh: The practice of writing haiku has taught me how to write with restraint. I write the same way when I write free verse, preferring imagery to metaphor.
slight breeze . . .
the silent spin of
wooden wind chimes
(The Heron’s Nest, March 2013)
Raamesh: You write both tanka and haiku. Though both are derived from Japanese literature, many writers write either one or the other. How have you managed to write both (and extremely well in both genres at that)? How do you ensure that your tanka is no more than a padded haiku, or that your tanka isn’t a haiku split over 5 lines?
How do you choose whether the subject material is suitable for tanka or haiku? This would be a great help for those early in their writing journey, trying to choose between tanka and haiku.
Ramesh: Tricky question! I am still learning the trade! …and it will always be so.
One thing is clear. In a tanka there is room to express your feelings directly. We can be subjective. In a state of sensitivity and attention, if we get inspired, there is a possibility of the muse visiting us. The poem takes its form; later we can use our tools of craftsmanship.
searching for coins
in my pocket –
my little daughter
(American Tanka issue 11)
Raamesh: Finally, what is your advice for a young writer starting out on haiku? Do you recommend they learn all the rules first, or do you recommend they plunge into writing, learning the rules on the way?
Ramesh: Both. He or she has to become familiar with the genre. Reading the masters will really help us get a perspective on the form. As far as writing is concerned, I believe in the words of the Tamil writer Sundara Ramasami. He says, “Write, that is the secret of writing.”
writing on the porch…
a moth’s wing touches
Raamesh: And with that our interview comes to an end. My best wishes.
Ramesh: Thank you for your thought-provoking questions, Raamesh! I enjoyed responding to them!