Interview: Kala Ramesh, Managing Editor, haikuKATHA-We focus on supporting poets - Hindustan Times
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Interview: Kala Ramesh, Managing Editor, haikuKATHA - “We focus on supporting poets”

BySuhit Bombaywala
Aug 16, 2023 09:37 PM IST

On how the Triveni Haikai India community aids its members to develop micropoems that eventually appear in the monthly online magazine, haikuKATHA

What prompted the decision to launch haikuKATHA?

Founder and managing editor, HaikuKATHA, Kala Ramesh (HT Photo) PREMIUM
Founder and managing editor, HaikuKATHA, Kala Ramesh (HT Photo)

Since 2005, the idea of establishing a website for Indian haiku had occupied my dreams. Triveni Haikai India (www.trivenihaikai.in) was officially launched on September 18, 2021.

Triveni, in our context, represents the union of India, Japan, and the global community, all coming together to celebrate haikai and tanka literature. Our mission encompasses two core objectives: Promoting the appreciation of haikai and tanka literature among Indians residing in India and abroad, and establishing a shared platform for haikai poets worldwide, transcending any physical or imaginary boundaries.

With this vision in mind, Triveni Haikai India was launched with 35 webmasters operating at tandem. Unlike typical haikai websites that offer one-way communication, ours encouraged continuous interaction, fostering a community.

In two months since its inception, the website’s efforts bore fruit, giving rise to “haikuKATHA,” our first issue, quite organically, born out of this endeavour. Thanks to the editorial team, it has been flourishing ever since then and is into its 22nd issue. (www.trivenihaikai.in/haikukatha-archive)

haikuKATHA accepts submissions from members of its parent community, Triveni Haikai India. Is this system better than letting non-members contribute?

How do other journals typically operate? They issue submission calls, providing a month or so for submissions to be sent in. After the submission window closes, there is a review period during which selected poets receive acceptance emails. As for the remaining non-accepted poems, polite emails are sent, expressing that their work may not be the best fit for the journal while wishing them success in finding a suitable home for their poems.

haikuKATHA, facilitated by our parent community, Triveni Haikai India, takes a different approach. It revolves around a strong focus on supporting poets and nurturing their talents. The core of its methodology is the collaborative process of workshopping. When I say “us,” it refers not only to the hosts, editors, and mentors but also includes our general members. Every poet who participates is encouraged to not only post their own poems but also to provide constructive feedback on other poets’ works. It brings us together as a tight-knit family, supporting and assisting one another in our growth as poets.

“Triveni Haikai India was launched with 35 webmasters operating at tandem. Unlike typical haikai websites that offer one-way communication, ours encouraged continuous interaction, fostering a community.” - Kala Ramesh (Screenshot)
“Triveni Haikai India was launched with 35 webmasters operating at tandem. Unlike typical haikai websites that offer one-way communication, ours encouraged continuous interaction, fostering a community.” - Kala Ramesh (Screenshot)

The literary magazine considers haiku, tanka, and haibun written to prompts that are posted on the community’s website by the editors. How does the system operate, and why are prompts given?

One feature of our website is “Tanka Take Home”, where we, specifically focus on helping members write tanka, tanka-prose, and tanka-art. We approach accomplished tanka poets, conduct interviews with them, and share their poetry while setting up challenges for our readers to ignite their creativity. The prompts or challenges serve as a ladder to elevate their poetry, but our members are always encouraged to write beyond these constraints. Likewise, in “The Haibun Gallery”, we interview established haibun writers, share their poetry, and provide challenges to inspire our members’ work.

“HAIKUsutradhar” is dedicated to haiku writers, and shares a poem, painting, or photograph as a prompt. As I mentioned earlier, the prompts are not restrictive but serve as gentle nudges.

Moreover, “open sky :: SAMVAAD” shares inspiring haiku from haiku masters to contemporary haijin. Exposing our members to various styles and nuances of art allows them to find their unique voices. Another feature is “thinkALONG”, where our hosts guide members in identifying common pitfalls new writers face. The host’s insights in June, which highlighted shedding one’s ego, avoiding clichés, and steering clear of speculations while writing haiku, have been valuable. Selected poems from these features are also included for publication.

Our “haikaiTALKS” feature serves as a platform for discussing different styles in haiku and tanka writing. Here, we even select poems for publication, emphasizing that it’s not only prompts but also interactions and discussions that inspire and improve our members’ writing. There are several other features I haven’t even touched upon.

haikuKATHA puts together issues after rigorous workshopping and long-and short-listing, a process that takes a month or two. Please explain the unusual process that leads to publication

What sets haikuKATHA apart from other journals is the month-long dialogue that takes place within each of our forums. Our editors and hosts invest their time, effort, and knowledge to provide critical assessments.

The workshopping period commences on the 3rd of a specific month and concludes on the 2nd of the following month. Once this period ends, poems are compiled into separate documents for evaluation by a group of editors, each group is responsible for a different type of poem. The editors gather over Zoom to meticulously discuss each poem and vote collectively on its potential publication. This process guarantees that every poem receives a fair chance for consideration. If any additional edits are deemed necessary, the respective writer is contacted via email or WhatsApp to obtain their consent before proceeding.

What is the vision underlying having separate sections for one-line, two-line, three-, four-line haiku and other kinds of micro poetry?

Haiku, as an art form, carries its own distinct style, and within it, the one, two, three, and four-line haiku each require specific handling. Though the differences may seem subtle, mastering them is no easy task. In these interactive sessions, we bring together editors and esteemed haiku poets from around the globe to elevate the standards of feedback our poets receive.

Does the magazine give awards? And are haiku recommended for foreign awards?

Recently, we introduced the Tejasvat Award. It is bestowed on a poet who has contributed a specific number of poems embodying the essence of haikai in any one issue.

Apart from the Tejasvat Award, we also nominate the finest poems from all the issues throughout the year for various awards or inclusion in anthologies organized by renowned international entities such as the Touchstone Award, The Pushcart, Red Moon Anthology, CHO Anthology, Sonders Press Small Fictions Award, among others. We are delighted to share that numerous poets we’ve nominated have been successfully published in these esteemed anthologies, as submitted by our editors. Additionally, some of our nominees have been longlisted for these prestigious awards.

Issue May 19, 2023 (Screenshot)
Issue May 19, 2023 (Screenshot)

Indian poets are part of the larger trend in Japanese-origin micro poetry: They are writing fewer haiku (the focus is on nature) and more senryu (emphasis on the human). What are some of the other interesting trends?

Haiku celebrates the connection between seasons, nature and to some extent humans, while senryu explores human idiosyncrasies and failures. Indian poets, as well as haijin (Japanese for a person who writes haiku) from around the world, are increasingly embracing senryu. The natural inclination towards senryu arises from our constant introspection, experiencing a wide array of emotions 24/7. Although writing a good senryu is not easy, it flows more naturally due to our heightened awareness of ourselves and our inner world. Our busy lives in concrete jungles often leave little time to pause, but many poets have learned to appreciate the hidden beauty in their surroundings, making their haiku captivating.

Besides haiku and senryu, haibun (haikai prose embedded with haiku) has gained popularity in our community. More poets are expressing their thoughts through beautifully crafted haibun. Additionally, tanka has seen a remarkable resurgence, and along with it tanka-prose, (which is prose embedded with tanka.) I am delighted to witness this ancient form thriving in the hands of haijin.

What are some future initiatives or new sections planned for the magazine?

One aspect of haikuKATHA is its focus on children’s haiku, which began with “Haiku Beckons” in our July issue. Unlike other journals that may feature children’s haiku towards the end, we took a different approach and showcased our children’s haiku and senryu right at the beginning of the issue. This special feature will be presented biannually, appearing only in May and November each year. (Link: www.trivenihaikai.in/_files/ugd/72638b_a6dc93f174bd4c7c8f61157f1ce47b64.pdf)

The essence of haikuKATHA is its interactive nature, and this fundamental principle will remain unchanged. It serves as the prime motive and driving force behind each issue of haikuKATHA. Though it may evolve in various forms, this interactive and nurturing element will remain throughout.

Concluding with a haiku of mine, which underlines the optimism with which I’ve worked these 19 years to popularize haikai literature in India:

swelling buds

i tell myself there is

a tomorrow

Suhit Bombaywala’s factual and fictive writing appears in India and abroad. Twitter: @suhitbombaywala

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