Tag Archives: Education

On rewriting inspiration

 When you ask me to revise a poem you ask me to meet again the Muse who seldom responds to invitation. She comes in suddenly through the door left open, announcing Her presence with words that have never sat together before. She says what She has to say and goes quiet; goes away or gets broken down into elements of the universe that I absorb without an intent.

Where am I to find this forceful genius?

I’ve been told to look for Her in spaces in-between words and lines, rhyme and rhythm, movement and breaks, language and sound. But I don’t find my Muse there; I find a key in a foreign language to a map that She drew.

Is She hiding in the white glow that lights my keyboard when I switch on my workstation? So, I should work and work and work on my verses. Or, is She in the deep breath that helps me ease into sleep? Then, I should breathe and breathe and breathe with my eyes closed to trick her into appearing. Perhaps it’s She who is the trickster: a mirage; a playful spirit that whispers in my ear. In which case I am cursed with the burden of loneliness.

With or without Her it seems it’s going to take a lot of time to re-see a moment that no longer exists, to re-write it in a way so that it exists forever.


I am beginning to grapple with the abstract idea of “completion” in creative writing which seems even murkier when talking about poetry. I read recently that “a poem is not truly finished until it has been seriously revised” and also “be wary of a poem that appears to be finished“. Statements that, as an amateur with 8 weeks of formal education in poesy, I find contradictory.
I need to also say that the poems you have been reading on my blog are not “seriously” revised. They have been written quickly, in a matter of an hour to a few hours if the form is tough (the Sestina, which is one of the hardest forms, took me about 12 hours). These poems are here more or less as they came to me. Now I am considering that all of this work here is a) probably unfinished, which is not a bad thing as, Da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned” and b) not good, trite, tripe. It’s making me question the quality of my natural skill for this art form. Though at present I am depressed by the thought, I am hopeful that I can see this as something to learn from; that all this self-doubt will make me a better writer and that it is a natural process. I hope it happens sooner rather than later because my Muse seems to have gone into hiding for fear that I will doubt Her every word and I cannot sleep because thoughts only She can give birth to have grown louder in my head in her absence.
I have received only love from this wonderful blogging community, for which I am immensely grateful but this post is not about  wanting an ego-boost. At this point I just want to learn from you, specifically about the role of revision in your creative process. Any and all thoughts are welcome from everyone, poet or not. Who knows who might be inspired by your comment!

Here’s an example of the creative process of the great Walt Whitman,

Original Manuscript: To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman (1874).
Original Manuscript: To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman (1874).

Summary of the manuscript (from Boston Public Library)

Written in Walt Whitman’s own hand, this early manuscript version of To a Locomotive in Winter shows Whitman’s creative process as he revised and reworked the poem, changing words and even pasting paper overlays of new passages until he was satisfied with the result. This manuscript poem is dated February 23, 1874, but Whitman continued to modify the text and it was considerably altered when published in 1876 in Two Rivulets, a companion volume to the 1876 edition of Leaves of Grass. This poem was republished in the 1900 edition of Leaves of Grass, well after Whitman’s death.

Image Source and further details: Boston Public Library (CC BY 2.0)


What is an “I” in poetry?

Situated usually at the start to grab notice,
Undulating with the tone, a poem’s voice
Breaks in first, second or third but
Just so you know it is a mere toy, a ploy
Enacted to lull you into feeling. It
Can, based on timing, be real in
Telling what the poet’s being is dealing with.
Over the course of many hours of
Reading poetry with its personage deceiving
Oscillations of meaning occur, when
Both sides of the coin are considered.
Juxtaposing the “I” with you or “You” with the poet
Enhances the mirthful trouble of annotating
Convoluted thinking. The question, at last, I pose is:
Trust a poet’s biography or her verses?

Day 3: Prompt-Trust; Form-Acrostic; Device-Internal rhyme


Since I started writing poetry, which was when I was may be 7 or 8 and I composed a little rhyme about the change in animal activity when winter is approaching, I’d always written in first person. I had also always written from my personal life. This is ironic because that first poem, which went something like, “Mr. *something* and Mr. *something* are running here and there; We see the  *something* collecting fruit and the fox behind the hare.” (yes, I have forgotten that rhyme and my cousin helped me with it), was written during my vacation in the boiling heat of coastal southern India. It seems that my very first ditty had nothing to do with my actual life. From then on, however, I wrote from what I was experiencing and my voice was always a defiant “I”. It was also how I interpreted others’ poetry. An “I” is always the person who wrote the poem.

Over the last few weeks my judgement has changed drastically. I now know that the voice of a poem is a “speaker” employed by the poet. It may be the poet’s actual being but in many cases it a fictional amorphic voice that a poet inhabits to speak of his/her experience as objectively as possible. It has helped me find better expression, delve deeper into my own psyche and importantly get my message on paper without the block that I face when trying to articulate my fears. There are of course many great confessional poets (Sylvia Plath for example) who have the tremendous talent and courage to paint their difficulties in true colours without having to rise above it. (I don’t think Sylvia Plath had a choice in that matter.)

My “I” is changing in its subject and its objectification. It’s allowing to me make characters out of my speaker, to approach poetry with an eye of fiction. I am also approaching my prose with an eye of a poet. I am used to cross-disciplinary scientific research and I’m surprised to have never considered such crossovers to occur also in the literature. (D’Uh!) Right now I am imagining you wonderful writers (who have learnt “how to write”) reading this post and smiling and shaking your head in a kind parental way. I am growing up. I am standing right now at the door frame of deliberate writing, next to my growth chart, and there is a new notch being added…I have grown an entire inch! How exciting!

However I think I’ll find that my family members will always be perturbed by any personal pronoun in an even mildly troubling poem. (Literary device? What is that? Is that something you can use to call us for free?) I suppose I would have to tag my poems as “fiction” as and when required to avoid some anxious messages from my mother. (I love you mom. I miss you.)

Sestina: The surprise of a lifetime

In an attempt to regain balance I almost
Lost all control. The evening before I sat in my study
Thinking of what I could do different and love
More than my present occupation. My feet
Twitched below the desk in fervent prayer or doubt,
Either way I was beginning to kindle a soul-scorching fire.

On a blank sheet of paper I started to fire
Off ideas. I drew arrows and boxes for words that almost
Made sense but such mind-maps would make others doubt
My sanity and question my logic. They’d say, “Why’d you study
All these years just to throw your life away? The world’s at your feet
And you choose to kick it! You are misguided my love.”

But I am not guided by anything except my love
For a challenge. Why am I in the line of fire
When it is you who should be blamed for the shackles on my feet?
Why should I answer to you when you almost
Made certain that I would not question the purpose of any study?
No sir, I’ll answer only to myself when in doubt.

With righteous indignation I was charting without a doubt
In royal blue ink that makes angry words less stark. It was a love-
Soaked rendering of the mind that would need study
In the better light of reason someday. The night grew in the cold fire
Of electric bulbs and I pondered dreams that have lasted almost
An entire lifetime without my knowledge. I felt numbness at my feet

That soon spread up. I switched to verses to find within their feet
A rhythm by which I could greet daylight. There was no doubt
That those poems suffered as I suffered, but their magnetism almost
Straightened the compass that had led to my disorientation. I was in love
With two things seemingly different but when purified by the fire
Of a philosophical torch they were two theses for the same study.

I wished to have one eye of science and another of art to study
Life in all its regulated nuance and irrational feat
Of fancy. The morning dawned with this realization and soon the fire
Of heavens commanded the skies promptly. It made me wish for a doubt-
-less existence, where I could wake each day to a destined love;
One where I will get by without saying, “Everything’s good, almost.”

I decided to share this with them, those people who almost
could not fathom change. It surprised me to find no rebuke, instead only love
And it became apparent that I had always been in control of their doubt.


This poem is a rough first attempt at writing a Sestina. The form requires 39 lines divided into 6 six-line stanzas and 1 three-line Envoy. Every line in the Sestina has a precise word ending. The order of the word-endings in each stanza are: 123456  615243  364125  532614  451362  246531  531/135.

This was tougher than the villanelle that I wrote a few days back. Linked verses are hard work!

Image Credit: NASA from Flickr.com (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Becoming a Mother these days

She believed she didn’t want to be one.
Her life focussed on work, on the run.
At an earlier point she might have done
The needful (if it had worked) but fate it seemed had none
Such intentions. So she shunned
The idea of a daughter or a son.

Her heart forced to be hard bore the brunt
Of judgemental harsh eyes. She put up a front
That she was doing what she’d intended, she learnt
How to shield herself. She set up a cogent
series of repartees, products for her calming foment.*

She never really dreamt: a pragmatist. The feeling crept
Inside her, implanted without consent, by deft
Children of her sisters’. Watching them grow left
An aching surge of instinct, washing pretence. Bereft

Now of her prior notions. Not on anyone’s behest
She decided, for her own, on her own to bequest
Her ancestry, her love, her everything. She made a request

At a late age. She asked, even on warning of death
To have a child–to gestate and birth, to give breath

To a person–to nurture; to apply for the only job she’d found perfect.


*foment used in its archaic form, meaning: to bathe (a part of the body) with warm or medicated lotions.


Mother's love (c) Jeyheich from Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Mother’s love (c) Jeyheich from Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


The first thought I had this morning was Rhyme. So here's my offering, which is rather personal, in a form that was made by the talent writer, Judy Dykstra-Brown of lifelessons blog. The scheme is called Sylvestrian Near Rhyme. You can read her poem here.

Writing an Anagram poem: Hirsute


You would need a shirt
to cover up at the beach. A true
layer of warmth sadly does not suit
any season. The daily rite
of razing what is sire-
d not of your own volition is sure
to rub anyone the wrong way. Tire-
some products, apparatuses for a suite
bathroom – are sophisticated but hurt-
ful to a natural hobbit from the Shire.


I am trying something new. Sometimes prompts and normal styles feel mundane and I need a fresh challenge to push my creativity. Enter, Terrance Hayes. He invents new formal constraints to write interestingly about very human subjects. I haven’t read his works (yet); just the one poem: Nuclear, which is a perfect example for an ‘Anagram poem‘.

These poems are adopted from the word games that we find in newspapers. The rules are:

  1. End words must be derived from four or more letters in the title.
  2. Words which acquire four letters by the addition of “s” are not used.
  3. Only one form of a verb is used.

Crafting this poem was a very enjoyable experience. I found it stimulating to have to speak about the subject with the words that are derived from the subject – there is something very Cubist about this affair.

I haven’t made any surprising inventions here (and hope to get better with practice) but I was surprised by how my thoughts could weave around designated words and still not lose their intentions. Is this what it means to be led by the horse and the road?

Update: Judy from lifelessons blog chose this as her prompt for the day (thank you so much!) and has brewed a brilliant Anagram Poem of her own, with a twist. Make sure you read it here.

Nananoyz from Praying for Eyebrowz has also attempted an Anagram poem and made the challenge even trickier. A brilliant composition. Have a look here.


Not just a mathematical uncertainty
An exclamation of human emotion that
Makes one feel insensible, irrational.
I wonder how much it matters – this
Need to logically think, to unravel
Quandaries with a stick of a defined length
And set out the shapes in perfect geometry.
Where does it come from?
We are governed by laws of nature
That can’t be broken, only mended.
So given how we are slaves
To the very idea of order, wherefore
We believe in chaos? Oh wait!
Isn’t it the other way ’round?
There is a tornado somewhere that
Seems lost and confused – the sense
In its existence being questioned as
It rapidly turns on its eye to see that
It is here because of a butterfly’s
Innocent flights of fancy.
Ah! The rational irrational.
I wish I knew you better.


I had to write by hand for 10 minutes without break, to let my irrational mind free and help me address new topics in poems.

I found the outcome interesting. I don’t know if I like it but it is what it is. (The poem is presented in its unedited form.) I was structured by the word and wrote about irrationality when I could have written about anything! I don’t even fully understand what I wrote: some math, chaos theory, natural world and almost no human emotion (which is the very essence of what I would consider irrational). I took the most rational subjects to speak about irrationality. Am I such an academic? Please don’t hate me!
“I wish I knew better” now feels other-worldly, like my own conscience was asking me to connect better with my emotions. Mildly freaked but highly intrigued!writing-with-pen
Why don’t you try the same? Make sure you handwrite it. I got very different results when I typed – very uninspiring and wholly depressing.

The Do that I Do that I Do so, well?

My café au lait which is too foamy for its own good sits hissing by the side while I silently waste my time on Twitter to find out what’s more important than Djokovic winning the Australian Open. People are sharing their blogs, inspirational quotes and there are other bits and bobs on there which on a better day I would have cared to click on. Not today. Today I am feeling admonished by my coffee: with every shush and hiss I can hear it tell me that I haven’t felt the need to “create” today. I knew this day would come, that ‘one day’ which can, depending on context and point-of-view, mean realisation of a dream or a nightmare.

So I open my WordPress Editor, switch on a playlist of one of my favourite contemporary Indian (pop and film) music composers; mildly surprised by how much his recent music is sounding like Christian rock, and here I am. The coffee is being drunk and heavy silence is being shut down by my long-lasting Logitech speakers. Today has not been a great day, so far. The scansion of my poem ‘A common love‘ failed and what I first “felt” I was writing in blank verse turned out to be in blah verse. Scansion? Blank verse?

Scansion: breaking down of poetic verses into stressed/unstressed syllables then grouping the syllables into a ‘foot’ (trochee, iambs etc) and then checking if there is a regular pattern to how the feet appear in each line which gives us the meter. The whole thing adds to how one perceives/hears a poem and can either exemplify a poem or destroy it based on the prowess of the poet. Scansion is of course based on interpretation and how one hears the syllables.

Blank verse: (preferably) non-rhyming, iambic pentameter, has emotive foot substitutions, with mid-line caesuras for added effect and interesting enjambments. It is probably the most sophisticated form of English metrical poetry.

This was my first formal attempt at writing anything in blank verse and I am not presumptuous enough to think that I would succeed; that in a few hours I could go from an amateur poet to writing like that Shakespeare chap or that Milton fellow. No, of course not. The other voice in my head is chuckling as I type this…because I “felt” I could do it. I stuck to the right syllable count and there are some interesting mid-line caesuras and enjambments (or so I believe). But I don’t have the iambic pentameter down. Will I ever? I. NEED. TO. have it down in less than 48 hours as that’s when my assignment is due.

Did I tell you that I am scientist? I have had an almost purely technical higher education. The last time I studied ‘art’ in any seriousness was NEVER. English was considered a fluff subject and social sciences a necessary evil. These seemingly innocuous subjects could pull down one’s GPA. The glorious GPA. In India we called it the total percentage – an oxymoron for a generation of, well, morons. Eat facts; Purge facts. The assimilation and digestion of these facts was encouraged just far enough to answer the “application-based” questions in the annual nation-wide central board examinations. I was inculcated into this band of buffoonery early and it’s not like I had a choice. No one ever has a choice in these matters.

When I prod my earliest memories of being in an “educational” institute in India I invariably come up with the scene of the annual parent-teacher meeting that was scheduled for the day when the final examination results was announced. I mean literally announced. We would enter our classrooms to find a list of names chalked out on the main board along with their respective total percentages. These were ‘The top 10 lists’ that went viral before such things were ever conceptualised. I say chalked out because for scores of children not seeing their names up on the board made the classroom feel like the scene of a murder investigation: their dreams and hopes had been killed off by the notorious evil of intense competition that they were somehow complicit in and their futures now being reevaluated and investigated in detail by persons of higher authority. Oh, the trepidation. Have you ever seen a six year-old have insomnia and indigestion because of stress? Please visit India in April and you’ll see millions of them.

In one of those evil annual meetings, when I was about 8 years old, in a prestigious school in Delhi an English teacher changed my life. Yes, we start learning early in India. I was distraught that I had placed 2nd or 3rd in the class and had missed out on the first place because of one percentage point or less. My teacher who smiled and handed my report card to my mother (who was very happy and proud of her child) looked at me with concern. She congratulated me on my rank and told me that I had done exceptionally well. She told me she was very happy with me and that I was an obedient child and very intelligent. The whole while I was looking at her wondering where I had lost marks that has costed me the rank. I wanted to see the other report cards. I am not good with praise so I was happy to have some critical points to mull over in my eight year old brain. She could sense, I think, that I wasn’t reassured by her generous compliments. Then she said something that pulled me out of my abysmal state with such force that I have over the years abstained from venturing into that dark cave of self-criticism and if I ever happened to find myself suddenly in that chasm then I would have the torch of her words to guide myself out:

She said, “Sampoorna. Always compete only with yourself.

Back then the biggest mystery of all to me was: How had she known what I was thinking? It’s obvious now that she was a good teacher who knew just what to say to make sure her student didn’t end up killing herself over that chalk outline. Perhaps what she didn’t know was that with those words she changed my approach to my education. (This time without the quotes.) I will never forget her, those words and that moment.

I have always loved science and have made a career out of a passion. But I have loved English and the social sciences too and it was probably because of my fourth-grade teacher’s wise words. I did well enough the latter subjects to keep my GPA high but did not go into them so deeply that it excluded me from the current generational agenda: Only Engineers and Doctors Allowed! That rant deserves its own post. However I competed with myself to know more about everything. I no longer looked for a blackboard, even a metaphorical one. I haven’t done so in a very long time. In the process I ended up having an illicit love affair with questions such as, “What is humanity?” and thinking thoughts way beyond my curriculum and career path such as , “Without language we would never have realised that we all have the same questions.” I can go as far as to say that my teacher’s wisdom has led me to be the mixed by-product of societal expectation that I am: neither an engineer nor a doctor but somehow both. This blog is also an extension of that self-competitive state which I would now rephrase as self-discovery. I am learning as much about myself as you are about me.

And now, how come a scientist ended up caring about scansion, blank verse, poetry? Because competing with oneself means learning constantly and creating something everyday. I am no longer planning and doing experiments but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an original thought to put to paper. And that brings me to my dismal day which somehow this post has redeemed. The itch to scratch out verses is returning. The evening is still youngish and I need to retry writing blank verses. I seem to suck at it but heck, who’s keeping scores?

Today's Daily prompt helped give direction to my thoughts: Teacher's Pet

ROL: Reading Out Loud

Type transformed into tenable tones
Simulates sounds of intentions unknown
A co-ordinated sensory effort to catapult
The mind out of the orbit of reason
Out of season out of reach
Out every experience just to
Land securely but shaken
Demurely but unmistaken-ly
Inside the land of poetry
That dreams and talks and rhymes
Unashamedly; that walks and chimes
As the bell of factories of flesh
And grime and mirth and time;
Requires each and every one of us
To stop letting our fingers
Do the talking as they underline invisibly
The words on a page of philosophy
Our eyes intone inwardly. Stop.
Filling vacant dimensions of space
Allow aloud always
Witty words of varied verses
Sing the praise
Of a very human enterprise.

Solar by Philip Larkin teaches

Sunset in France
Sunset over the marshes of Camargue, Southern France. (c) Sam Rappaz, 2012


Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed

The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Continuously exploding.
Heat is the echo of your

Coined there among
Lonely horizontals
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.

(November 4, 1964; 1974)

 – Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Larkin’s mastery of metaphors leaves me breathless. Each image is unexpected and unforced. I read, I try, I learn and with each passing day the talent for expressing the ordinary in extraordinary terms is developed. It’s tough, frustrating and words can seem immalleable but the rewards outweigh the effort multifold. Anyone who has ever wanted to write in any genre and write well must read poetry – a lesson I am learning too late for my liking but ever so eagerly.

Reading to write again

From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see: somewhere in the streets of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my twin, even my double.

I suspect that there is another Sam too. I used to call her Kalpana, like the rest of my family. But now she is Sam. Kalpana has ceased to exist, in almost every way except in my mother’s memories.

I don’t think she ever lived in a home resembling mine. She couldn’t have. If she had then she would have been left behind in Hyderabad in 1990. She would be the ghost of the little girl that haunts that beautiful apartment complex in the posh neighbourhood. No. She moved with me everywhere I went in my life. I knew she was there because I have been talking to her. She has an opinion on most things and I try my best to accommodate her views in my decisions. But my best has rarely been good enough.

She is my double. I use her to stand for me when called by the Grand Jury of Conscience. They seem not to be able to tell us apart.

After all these years of being used and stepped on; of being mercilessly silenced; of being a quiet spectator she wrote me a letter. I considered it. She had just the one request: write.

So I did. I didn’t realise it then that her simple need would make me question everything. She was having her revenge and eating it too.

I have decided to answer her back. I have decided to learn the craft of poetry and tell her, while using language in its most sophisticated form, that I WRITE. I need Sam to like me again. I am coming up for trial: the Grand Jury is bound to convene soon.

I start preparing for my online poetry course from tomorrow. I hope you will forgive my lack of attention to your wonderful blogs. I'll do my best to keep up with as many of you as time permits.
The starting line of the post is taken from one of my favourite creative non-fiction works, Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk.
poetry textbooks
My course books. Except Mary Oliver. That one I bought just for fun.