Way back in the old timeline, I recall running around a hotel in San Diego between conference panels, trying desperately to get enough WiFi to finish up the fourth issue of this journal. One of the new contributors was Shloka Shankar, who I’d never heard of, with some amazing composite poems culled from movies & tv scripts. In the five years since, I’ve come to know her as a great editor, a gracious reader of poetry, a tireless experimenter, and a long distance friend. In the field of why (Yavanika Press, 2022), she continues to innovate within hakai writing, short forms originating in Japan. Far from the rigid formalist haiku and haibun journals which police these styles with goosestepping aplomb (not naming names; you know who you are), Shloka gets weird with it, and bless her for it. I blazed through this collection going “Whoa…wow…hey cool…WHAT…oh that’s great!”
Earlier this past week, I sent Shloka, who lives and works in Bangalore, India, some questions about the book. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us a little about INhaiku and how it brought you to haikai writing.
“I was introduced to contemporary English Language haiku in late 2013 when I was invited to join the Facebook group INhaiku, founded by Kala Ramesh. It was here that I learned haiku are untitled poems and not always strictly written in a 5-7-5 syllabic structure. This secret group’s members included several luminaries of the Indian haiku scene. I was grateful for the opportunity to workshop my poems in their midst and learn so much in the process. It paved the way for me to read and further my own explorations over the next several years.”
the things I can’t
What are some of your techniques or approaches to visual work? Any software/programs you like to use?
“I have been dabbling in found poetry, particularly erasures, for almost a decade now, and this sort of made me fall in love with visual poetry/vispo. My tools range from the humble Microsoft Word to MS Paint and Android apps including ArtFlow, Pixlr, and Infinite Painter. I like playing the role of matchmaker by combining a piece of existing artwork with a haiku I’ve written to create haiga. Sometimes the process is organic, at others, I have to manipulate the fit. I also enjoy creating digital collages using Canva in combination with the other apps mentioned above.”
relapse on a telephone wire
Who do you consider your fellow travelers? That is, whose work in similar forms do you admire?
“I feel truly honoured to have worked with and published so many of my contemporaries either through Sonic Boom or Yavanika Press. My fellow travellers whose work I greatly admire are Robin Anna Smith, Kat Lehmann, Marianne Paul, Debbie Strange, Peter Jastermsky, Jim Kacian, Geethanjali Rajan, Alan Summers, Michael Rehling, Michele Root-Bernstein, Susan Antolin, Terri L. French, Peter Newton, Ádám T. Bogár , Robert Epstein, marlene mountain, and at least another two dozen names.”
Many of these poems make succinct comments on contemporary issues. How do you navigate discussing these things in such short pieces?
“I don’t consciously set out to write about “issues” per se. My writing, more often than not, stems either from personal experience or is a way of articulating what’s brewing in the subconscious. And haiku has taught me to pare down and really distill my thoughts, resulting in mental images that may seem abstract at first, but slowly unravel with multiple readings.”
Lastly, tell us about Yavanika Press. What would you like us to know?
“Yavanika Press is the imprint of the literary & arts journal Sonic Boom. I founded this indie press in 2018 to provide a platform for both new and established writers, as well as publish collections by poets we love. With a focus on e-chapbooks, we typically bring out 5-10 ebooks a year. My debut full-length haiku collection marked Yavanika Press’ 50th title, and I feel like the journey has just begun. We are infinitely grateful to the poets who have trusted us with their work in the past and we will continue to cast a spotlight on voices that deserve to be read, savoured, and appreciated.”
This past year, I’ve been writing a lot of shorter poems myself. There’s something about the ways in which a few choice words can encapsulate an entire universe. Recent images of deepest space remind us that our own favorite blue ball of planet is exactly that itself. A smallness so big. A prayer on the head of a pin. Breathe in this collection, just under 60 pages, where a few words hold the cosmos. The poems in the field of why are epics.