By Gopal Lahiri
Nishi Pulugurtha’s latest collection of form poems, Raindrops on the Periwinkle (includes haiku, haibun and tanka) captures the essence of a moment, focuses on a natural image and brings out the nuances of a sudden insight. There are in all 52 haiku and five haibun and three tanka in this slim volume.
The haiku is a Japanese poetic form usually consisting, in English versions, of three unrhymed lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. Of all the Japanese poetic forms, the haiku is the best-known and it has emerged as a separate form in the sixteenth century, because of Basho’s brilliant work but has its roots actually in the Middle Ages.
In Japanese form, the haiku is composed of 17 sound units divided into three parts in 5-7-5 formats. Since sound units are much shorter than English syllables, modern variant of haiku in English language does not follow the 17 syllables which are mandatory in the traditional fixed format haiku. Tanka is a 31 syllable Japanese form poem and is written in five lines with 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count form. The transition of an image to personal response is seen in tanka. On the other hand, haibun is a prosimetric literary form, combining prose and haiku. The range of haibun is broad and often includes diary, essay, prose poem, short story, autobiography, travel stories, etc.
Nishi Pulugurtha writes mostly classical haiku in the fixed format of 17 syllables. Some of her haiku follows the modern trend as well without any restriction of 17 syllables. The five haibun embed luminous prose and haiku in a seamless manner. And the three tanka are the lesson in simplicity.
The poet in her ‘Preface’ talks about the background of writing these form poems. She says, “it is the trying times that the pandemic brought about, the experience of strange times that are still so much a part of life, of learning to deal with things in such times with all their restrictions that made me work at writing more form poems.”
Shirane, the eminent haiku poet, makes a point that haiku always affords new space that goes beyond existing definitions of haiku.
Nishi Pulugurtha’s haiku depicts nature which reflects a special moment, a disposition, an attitude. Every word is important in haiku and contributes to what the poet wants to express. That is why reading a haiku or any other short poems demand the close attention of the reader. Here every word is sensitive and important to convey the desired meaning as the silence between the lines is fathomless.
This book was written during pandemic time and there is a sense of loss in some of her form poems.
here is no joy here
only shrieks and tears of pain
suffering and loss.
frightening scary walls close
to breath to live- Home.
Her elegantly poised haiku are imbued with simple submission, unrequited love for nature and glowing awareness of life cycle. The tone, the texture and hue, give a new dimension to the following lines,
yellow leaf drying
some green too- holding on to
Life- in many ways.
Not the phrase and fragment which are so typical of modern haiku, the poet keeps her eyes on the immediate physical world around, particularly that of nature, and on the workings of the human imagination, memory and the eco-spaces.
runs in quick
in the green ground
hides and plays
red small ones
as the new green buds
grow and bloom
A good haiku consists of two images juxtaposed together using as simple a language as possible allowing the reader to visualize the scene and fill all the things unsaid. Here are two examples.
the leafy bottle
large red blooms
The poet talks about the nature and surroundings, “the trees and plants in my small green space that brought in so much colour and delight in difficult times.”
The poet writes a few tanka in this collection and there is a range of words that associate or bridge the sections in this form. They often shift or expansion of the subject matter in tanka is quite normal.
yellow grassy bloom
sways gently breaking through moss
enclosing two ants
that move here and there busy
hidden and masked like our lives.
She writes haibun with considerable ease. It is a creative prose, musical without rhyme, supple without any jerk and progresses to adopt to the lyric movements of the soul, to the undulations of reverie, to the poetic spaces of conscience. These are evident in the following examples,
All around tall eucalyptus trees that try to reach high. The leaves, some brown and mostly green, swayed a little once in a while. A rhythm in their motion as some music is heard.
flying across trees
The white, red and violet flowers on the shrubs huddle to listen. A lonely bee flits on the daisy and settles down in a while.
as life meanders
Raindrop on the Periwinkle opens up a new vista in form poems and stands out for its sheer promise and startling originality and quietness. Here the form poems are marked by rhythms, elegance and improvisatory delight, certain of itself and its purpose.
The book is also lit up by many tender moments against the backdrop of the Pandemic. The title points to the joy of writing, the deep pleasure of the activity itself. Its muses about the relationship between words and nature, and illuminates the character of poetic making.
Writers Workshop books always provide the visual beauty of hand stitching and sari cloth woven design. Raindrop on the Periwinkle is a slim volume you can’t turn away from. And surely, it’s a delightful read.
Gopal Lahiri was born and grew up in Kolkata, India. He is a bilingual poet, writer, editor, critic and translator and published in Bengali and English language. He has authored 10 volumes of poetry in Bengali and 17 volumes in English and jointly edited seven anthologies of poems in English and published one translation work. His poetry is also published across various anthologies as well as in eminent journals of India and abroad. His book reviews have been published in Indian Literature of Sahitya Akademi (Print journal), Muse India, Scroll.in, Different Truths, Café Dissensus, The Lake (UK), Elixir (US), Kitaab (Singapore), Setu (US), The Statesman and The Millenium Post, Kolkata and many others. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prize for poetry in 2021.
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