Book: The Forest I Know (a gathering of tanka verses)
Author: Kala Ramesh
The Tanka is a traditional Japanese poetry form, popularly called the ‘short song’. Originally written as a one-line poem with thirty-one syllables, it is broken into five poetic lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 structure when written in English today.
Kala Ramesh’s The Forest I Know is an amalgamation of tanka, tanka prose and tanka doha. She also introduces us to the tanka sutra, spun together using more than two tanka verses.
Who is Kala Ramesh Kala Ramesh is a Pushcart-nominated poet, editor, anthologist and an external faculty member of Symbiosis International University, Pune. She has several collections to her credit, as an editor and is the author of Haiku! (Katha Books) and Beyond the Horizon Beyond (a book of haiku and haibun which was declared the finalist in the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2019). She has initiated several projects to bring haiku to everyday spaces.
What is the forest I know all about? I would say that the book is a journey. It is divided into six sections, personal notes which at once belong to the reader. It is a kaleidoscope of human emotions, frailties, disillusionment, discovery, remembrances, sacrifices and much more. Simplicity and complexity of life are represented in the same frame. Life is not one-dimensional. It is a multi-layered painting, abstract and tactile at the same time. Kala Ramesh presents this convolution beautifully. I quote from the book,
In the courtroom
on the same page
for the last time
the conveyor belt
ah! the freedom to walk away
While form, structure and devices are integral to poetry, it is the depth in words that sets it apart from other forms of writing. The poet, in this collection, achieves the rare combination of profundity and economy of words in the same space.
she knew how
to stay in love
without losing herself…
jasmine scent in the air
(Section: Within and Without)
How difficult it is to balance between staying yourself and becoming another in love. This complexity is achieved beautifully in the collection using the most un-embellished language.
Kala Ramesh paints the pangs of separation and loneliness with a mesmerizing imagery (so essential to the tanka). Consider this,
I light the oil lamp
to keep the gathering darkness
from hemming my soul
The rich metaphorical use of language adorns this collection which showcases the Indian life and traditions and ‘hems’ them to the tanka verse.
The quintessential role of childhood in our lives and our never-ending desire to let it go, comes across in the section ‘Backyard Well’ in which the poet’s early years are reflected through sounds, smells and other vivid imageries.
As you move on to ‘Pellets of Desire’, ‘Within and Without’ and ‘Oneness’, you come face-to-face with the taboos associated with being a woman; the fear and realization of becoming ‘your mother’ as you age; and caressing the unfulfilled desires from the past- wondering how long they can go on to haunt you; watching the reverie that childhood is being broken by the pragmatism of adulthood.
The Forest I Know draws a parallel world of human aspirations and nature. It appeals to the senses in manifold ways and breaks a wave of familiarity over the reader. Evocative and startling, you are immersed in the experience of these tanka verses. I close with one of my favourites,
I draw a circle on paper
Yay or Nay? I have a soft spot for poetry, and another one for personal experiences, also one chronicling the journeys of women. If you too are a lover of verses and the short poetry form is your go-to place, then this book must make its way into your collection. You will emerge with a feeling of having shared a part of yourself with these verses or vice versa. The book has an expansive afterword by Michael McClintock.
The book can be purchased from the following link,