When you are New to Haiku, you may not know anyone who shares your interest in this little poetry form. We asked established haiku poets to share a little about themselves so that you can meet them and learn more about their writing journeys. We, too, wanted to learn what advice they would give to beginning haiku poets.
Our first interview is with Kala Ramesh, the foremost English-language haiku poet writing and teaching in India today. (More questions for Kala will follow in future New to Haiku blog posts.)
This week’s question for Kala is: What triggered your interest in haiku?
Looking back now, I wonder — was it the silences embedded between lines, between words? Was it the rhythm, the musicality, the flow of the language in which it was written? Was it the concise quality of haiku or the fact it made me more aware of the five senses, taking me closer to nature? Yes, I would say it was all this and much more.
Since childhood I was a student of Indian classical music- first in South Indian Carnatic music and later in North Indian Hindustani music. Yes, in India we have two distinct traditions of classical music! I went through many years of intensive training in Kumar Gandharva’s style of singing from Mrs. Shubhadda Chirmulay, in Pune. For me the one thing that made me revel in Kumarji’s music was those inbuilt silences, which added layers to his raga exposition.
In 2005 I accidentally bumped into haiku. Just three months into this beautiful art form, I felt I could find my own voice here, a very important element when pursuing an art form.
my breath holds even
the song’s silences
– Acorn #23, 2009
In regard to haiku, Master Basho often spoke about poetic sincerity, honesty, and truth, called fuga no makoto. I came to understand this through Indian classical vocal music. When sound emanates from the naabhi (navel) — as the ancient texts say it should — then it is akin to meditation, for every muscle and every nerve is aware of the passage of the breath. The use of praana (breath) is what makes vocal music so elevating. In Buddhism, one watches the breath as it comes and goes — aana and paana. Breath is the outside space touching your inner space — an intrinsic part of nature, which gives you sustenance. This pure breath is what a vocalist employs to give expression to her art. Can anything be more honest?
I dream walk
my sense of I
– Haiku 21 (anthology) Modern Haiku Press 2011
To me, then, haiku is an experienced moment coming from within, but laced with imagination, for haiku is an art form, which means it employs craft. Craft leads to techniques and nuances that help haiku to get to that realm where words seem to drop away, leaving behind just the truth of the is-ness. Haiku relies a lot on resonance. I have been drawn to a particular haiku a number of times simply because the poem continues to echo in my mind and begins to live in my memory…it reverberates, adding more texture and resonance as the years pass by.
If I had to say in one line what brought me to haiku, it would be this: I was intrigued to know that haiku was all about the creative force of nature (zoka) – nature that is constantly moving. We catch that flow and rhythm of life in our haikai literature, or rather, we try to catch it! After this first exposure, it is sheer hard work that makes a writer become a haikai poet!
Poet, editor, anthologist, and festival director Kala Ramesh has been the foremost advocate and practitioner of haiku and allied Japanese poetry forms in India, including tanka, haibun, and renku. Kala, who is also an Indian classical singer, has created magic in the world of Japanese poetry by not only authoring critically acclaimed books and poems but also cultivating hundreds of Indians to immortalize the spirit of Japanese short forms of poetry.
Kala has organized six haiku festivals and conducted countless workshops in haikai literature all over her country. Kala’s initiatives culminated in founding “INhaiku” in 2013, the umbrella organization of Indian haiku poets. As an external faculty member, Kala has been teaching haikai poetry to undergraduates at the Symbiosis International University Pune and to school children at the Katha Creative Writers’ Workshop since 2012.