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New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners – Kala Ramesh, Part 1

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 follow in part 2 and part 3 of this interview.)

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.

cascading notes…
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?

dense fog
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.

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first print poetry collection, Grasping the Fading Light: A Journey Through PTSD, won the 2021 Women’s International Haiku Contest from Sable Books. Her ebook of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Moth Orchid Press (formerly Title IX Press). Her most recent collection, After Curfew, is available from Cuttlefish Books. Connect with her on Instagram @julieblosskelsey.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Ah, Kala—a name synonymous with Indian haiku!

    I have never had the pleasure of meeting you in person yet, Kala, but I am so pleased to have workshopped haiku and haibun online with you and caught some of your enlightening presentations and performances. You are always involved with such interesting projects and I look forward to participating in more—particularly the Triveni virtual ginko walk next weekend!

    Thanks to Julie and THF for this insightful feature.


  2. What an insight Kala! I agree with Vijay when he says — the more we come closer the mystery deepens, about this art form and about you as a ‘Saadhak’ for what I feel through your creations is that ‘it is pure sadhana of the art form’. This is what keeps us intrigued as learners. You are a repository of experiences and deep understanding of this form and we are blessed to have you as our Guru.

  3. Dear Kala, Thank you for your support for education. I continue to blog from a small town in Wisconsin. You inspired me to look at my 2020 Stats from I am always grateful to see many readers from many countries. After the United States, most readers of my blog are from India. My acrostic poems are most read. And thank you, Julie, for your interesting new series. I look forward to the posts. So many good comments as well. I am happy to be retired now. All the best – Ellen

    1. Dear Ellen,

      Thank you so much for your kind comment.
      Oh! Lovely! Yes, our Indian poets are everywhere in the haikai world now, getting seen, winning awards and in general doing exceptionally well. So very happy for them.

  4. Dear Neena,

    I smiled through your comment.
    Yes, we all need to get deeper and deeper into haikai, for it has no end, and it keeps yielding.
    I’m a student, and will always be and being in all your company in TRIVENI, has helped me to grow as a person – which is an important part of being a good haikai poet.
    Thank you.

  5. A wonderful, insightful interview with famous Indian haiku poet, Kala Ramesh. She has done so much to promote haiku, tanka, renku, haibun and other related forms, and her own work is lovely and intuitive. Thanks to THF for providing us with this opportunity to learn more about what brought her to haiku.

  6. The more one reads
    this charisma, called Kala, the
    less one knows her…
    The uncertainty grows, the mystery deepens , …
    Inside her own words, each time she is a different movement , the magic keeps shifting , expandig …
    The meaning can’t be planted in set places ….
    To read her, one needs intuitive leaps that scales the fences of language …. one has to access those veins that run beneath the surface in her text ….
    Thanks to Julie Bloss Kelsey for a great introduction !

    1. Dear Vijay,
      What a comment!
      I’m clean bowled.
      I’m a great fan of your work, and feel you have a lot in you.
      Thank you once again.

      Yes, my special thanks to Julie & to THF for this introduction.
      The haikai world has been kind to me and what I have done in return is negligible.
      I truly feel blessed.

    2. I love Vijay’s comment as it reminded me of Francis Bacon’s, “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”
      With haiku one has to get out of oneself’s way. We become the instrument of the ineffable, without self-center: a witness.
      It does indeed seem Kala employs this in all her art. It’s not only the mark of a master, but one of a masterful teacher as well.

  7. Everytime, I read or listen to Kala’s interpretation of haiku; I wade on the streams of that never ending knowledge!
    Thank you so much.

    1. Dear Lakshmi,

      Thank you for being so much a part of my life now.
      You are so deep into haikai lit and it gladdens my heart to see you bloom.
      Keep writing…

  8. Such an awesome read. Kala Is an institution in herself and an inspiration for haiku poets.
    This is a wonderful launch of the series and it will help many of us to learn and hone our craft. Compliments to Julie Bloss Kelsey for the excellent introduction and presentation of our beloved Kala.

    1. Dear Neena,

      I smiled through your comment.
      Yes, we all need to get deeper and deeper into haikai, for it has no end, and it keeps yielding.
      I’m a student, and will always be and being in all your company in TRIVENI, has helped me to grow as a person – which is an important part of being a good haikai poet.
      Thank you.

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