Tag Archives: book review

Exploring Haibun @ Rochelle Potkar’s Paper Asylum

I first heard of the term haibun when I spoke to the poet and novelist Rochelle Potkar. This interesting form of poetry was the brain child of Basho, the seventeenth century Japanese haiku maestro. Fusing the seventeen syllable haiku and prose leaves you with an interesting fusion for while prose can be rambling causing you to time travel, poetry is dew drop and glints like time itself, fleeting.

Paper Asylum is a book of prose poems that throbs with the heartbeat of the samsara: dhadkan, mutuko dhukdhuki, dubrai, hrudaya spandana, ridai renag tarko, lungphu, yada badepa, or kalazachi udi. Potkar’s grasp over the human condition and the medley of languages and emotions that traverse the subcontinent leaves you exhilarated and immensely satisfied. I read a haibun a day and keep the book away, its beautiful cover reminding me that the experience was fictional, but was it really?

Image result for paper asylum book

Potkar does not shun the ordinary- her poems are infused with the objects of existence- property, hearing aids, vomit, in-laws, festivals, pots and CDs. Her knowledge of people and their behaviour is subtle and penetrating.  There are hungry pregnant women, adolescents navigating puberty, rikshaw wallahs and failed fathers.

Her prose poetry marries the infinite magic of living with the mundane, connecting the two, like her haibun Knowledge, an account of overlapping realities, of the two sides of the coin or in this case living itself.

You can keep coming back to her verse that acts as punctuation to the stories she tells.

A pregnant mother’s

Lost cravings

The baby drools

See what I mean? We need pauses such as these in our lives so filled with meaningless banter and information tomes. Paper Asylum is exactly  that, an asylum of meaning. Read it.

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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Books, Inspiration




What is it?

It’s life itself and sometimes it gets too loud. Then that reputation you built based on reading and writing poems everyday goes London Bridge is falling down , falling down, falling down.

But it is not that simple. Just when you conclude that maybe noise can take over, you read a poem again and then you write one and then another.

Habits have a halo of immortality about them.

Anyway I have been blogging @InstaScribe about books on writing.

Are there are any books you think I should read about writing? It is a myth that reading books on writing will stop you from writing; they remind you not to forget.

© neelthemuse, 2014
Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon

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Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Books


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That long silence and reading Cleland’s Room of Thieves

It’s been a while since I posted. It has been almost three years now since this blog was conceptualized in a sudden impulsive mood. I just realized that!

Being off of the blog for a while reminded me of a poem I wrote in 2012 called Angry Young Blog.

There are times when the blog likes to be quiet as well. Blogs change like the people who write them. Last year I read and studied a lot of poetry. This year I’m delving into fiction a bit more.

In spite of that self- proclamatory fiction obsession, I couldn’t help  picking up this delightful book by Angela Cleland called Room of Thieves. It is a clever book full of sharp edges and a very original rendition.

room of thieves

Look at a small extract from this poem Frozen points

We are nasty, cubist, snagging on each others’

angles, grow more acute at every irritation.

The anger of trigonometry frustrated

is sharp in brows, is taut in bodies drawn with bows,

stings along the rims of eyes held open too long

between dry blinks….”

The book is filled with aggressive instances such as these crossing geographies from the Loch to as far away as Machu Pichu, There is an undercurrent of explosiveness that runs through this string of pearls. Cleland doesn’t shy away from using different forms either.

You can read some extracts here. Really inventive and fresh.

A prose poem I liked very much was Dusk:

The chair has no idea. That luxurious creak as I shift in it slowly, lay my head back and pen myself to the afternoon light. The air has no idea, drawing its cool scarf across my arched throat. The bird has no idea….”

and she goes on to a mesmerizing climax. Teaser enough for you?

I don’t think any one should worry about quietness at the blogs they write. It may mean many things- exploring new themes or removing the monotony of every day. A blog is like your second skin- it is strange that I write differently while I write my blog posts and am much much more hesitant to ‘be me’ at social media.

In fact writing this blog has changed the course of my life- I realized that I must invest more time with poetry.

How do you deal with quietness at your blog?

© neelthemuse, 2014

Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon


Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Books, Day to day, Inspiration


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Writing Here

The literary scene is good in South Asia. Kind of like an ancient Banyan spreading it’s life across the horizon….


I’m telling you this because it wasn’t like this at all when I was growing up. I lived in the Middle East and my father being a voracious reader got us books mostly by foreign authors. So I grew up reading a lot of British and American and Russian writing because that was all there was. Except for the occasional Ruskin Bond or R.K.Narayan.

Of course all this has changed. Now everywhere I look, someone tells me in a conspiratorial voice that he or she is an aspiring writer or a closet writer or a blogger or a freelancer.

Publishing houses are excited about the next big thing. Editors are on the look out for a manuscript they can ‘clean’ up. Facebook groups by writers, for writers and of writers are atomically exploding online. Mine included.

Every writer has a blog has a twitter account has a pinterest has a tumblr has an instagram.

Every book is alive and speaking in its own voice asking for reviews @ Amazon and Goodreads.

The new Festival in this Festive land where holidays are the norm rather than the rarity is the Lit Fest.

Performance Poetry Workshops are seeing puppeteers, theatre artists, publishers, engineers, teachers and marketing gurus composing poetry and enacting them in open spaces.

Eminent writers chat pleasantries while sipping spiced tea with wide-eyed wannabes and discuss the publication scenario.

Tiny groups of writers get together in cafes to free write and find themselves.

So although there is a view that there are way too many writers and all the writing that comes out is not all that good- it is an exciting time to be a writer in South Asia.

Lucky to be here!

neelthemuse@ 2014

Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon


Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Books, Dark fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal Romance


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Reading The Hoop

The Hoop  is a slender book as poetry books are. It is divided into two parts” The Hoop” and “Green”. John Burnside  wrote this magnificent collection, his first book, with nature as his guide. His ecological praxis explores a centring that is lost and can only be restored by the Green Man ( a British pre-Christian symbol of healing). For a scholarly exposition of Burnside’s work see this.


The Hoop is a book dripping with nature. Extraordinarily memorable lines: lines you would like to write in your notebook.

“memory strapped to your face/like a diver’s lung’ (9)

face “half-bear, half featureless like the face//of any accident.”(10)

“The soul is a woman…….Or else a dialect”(11)

If marginalia is an indication of writing a book review, my marginalia for this poem was scant. All I could do was admire the lines, want to rewrite them, particularly the lines of ‘The Runner’ and ‘Leaving Nutwood’. When you write and rewrite the lines of a poem you learn a great deal.

Have you tried doing that? Not by way of imitation, but to understand the way the poet uses rhythm or the ten-syllable line effectively even today.

The cover of ‘The Hoop’ shows an oil spill and Burnside approaches the silence by recreating all that is lost:

“autumn may persist/between the books”(46).  What a glorious idea- imagine the dry rose we preserve in notebooks! Nature is a broken thing, dead, a memory,  appearing  “like weeds in herbaceous borders” or settling like “feathers in a kitchen.”

The nostalgia in this book filled with reference to Celtic mythology is immensely easy to relate to. Even though I live in South Asia and do not understand the English landscape, Burnside brings it to life in images so beautiful, you feel like framing his lines so that you can read them as you walk past walls. He makes you want to pause and rediscover your own past, the nature you grew up without or lost, the nature you can reclaim by reading his lines. He inspires you to create your own ode to a nature you have lost.

“Life is a mist/where there is always something else to find/And no one leaves, though all are left behind.”(18)

A book to muse on, a treasure…..

I find British and American poetry to be very different indeed. American poetry is very experimental at times and British poetry still maintains an adherence to form. What do you think?


neelthemuse@ 2013

Check out my book Unsettled @ the Indireads Book Store:


Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Books


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Reading Everything begins Elsewhere

Tishani Doshi’s slight book of poems Everything begins Elsewhere has two parts- most poetry books are divided this way into parts. The first part is Everything begins.

Where does everything begin? Have you thought of the beginnings of love, beauty, terror and the wind? Endings are something people think of a lot and beginnings- that’s the stuff of  dreams. Doshi starts with the dog in the valley- an insistent barking from somewhere. She is the kind of poet whose writing is so typically POET  if you understand what I mean.


She weaves a world of vine, brainfever birds, teak, rain, jasmine, coconut husks, mudras,mosquitoes, Mohenjedaro’s brassy girls… Her background so entrenched in dance and journey comes out like a story and Asia is born. Take her interpretation of the seventh century Buddhist scholar Xuanzang’s journey along the Silk Route as he traverses past monasteries, loiters behind caravans, meets the Bamiyan Buddhas, the atmosphere of ‘scattered Sanskrit kisses’  lingering in her poems.

“Would you say how you’ve been waiting/for something to grow from the silence-/nothing phenomenal-just cracks of light/in the long doorways you’ve been walking through” she says of sublime love in ‘Sunday Afternoon’.

In ‘River of Girls‘,  Doshi pays tribute to girls gone missing:”sound of ten million girls/singing of a time in the universe/when they were born with tigers/breathing between their thighs/when they set out for battle/with all three eyes on fire/ their golden breasts held high//like weapons in the sky.”

The second part is the Elsewhere– the place of dreams, the past, the future, the emigrant’s journey, dance. Throughout the book, there are lessons interspersed. I loved  the lesson on Losing. It is a poem about the slow disappearances that characterize the final Loss- death, the reality that  no one can really understand.

I read the volume a couple of times. It grows on you and takes you to other poets like the Scottish poet Burnside and the ancient Sanskrit poet Jayadev. She refers to quite a few poets in the short prologue lines to some of her poems. This is a beautiful way to construct poems- read and reflect on a poet’s lines, a poet whose words make sense to you, and then write a poem in response to those words or lines. The lines could be a trigger or may be placed before the poem as an afterthought. They could be the beginning or the elsewhere….

Why not reflect on a favourite poet’s work  right now and see what happens when you write or even read?


neelthemuse@ 2013

Check out my book Unsettled @ the Indireads Book Store:


Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Books


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The Mara Crossing: Of Migrations

I thought reviewing poetry books would be a fine idea, considering that I enjoy reading poems so very much.

This is not a review though.

the mara crossing

It is a feeling of wonder about what a book can do. The Mara Crossing is the extremely erudite Ruth Padel’s homage to migration. The Mara Crossing itself refers to the Serengeti wildebeest migration phenomenon

But the term Migration is so all-encompassing that it is perfect poetry book material. When you write a book of poems it would be good idea to have some kind of theme that can hold your poems together though this is by all means not essential.

In this book, migration translates into so many ideas.

It could be a flock of birds in their tell-tale V/Streaming cells in a mother’s womb lining up to create a foetus./ It could be the flow of stems and roots and flowers that populate the earth/ the flow of rivers into their seas./The march of people to different beats/ the beached whale/ the wars that make people give up everything they know to gain one thing- living/ the flow of the gene/ the spread of disease.

The book is written in prosimetrum a migratory experience in itself as the poet moves from prose to poetry and again.

The prose explains the premise of the poems. Each poem is crafted with so much scholarship and encyclopaedic accuracy. I found myself going to the dictionary many times- on my phone and the big dictionary on my shelf as well. A migration in itself- the absorption in the sentence turning into a search for meaning, something to pin it down. In the search something is always lost, something gained.

I have a sense of renewed respect for the Bird, Insect, Plant and Humankind, for all things that travel through time. A sense of Yugen- a Japanese word that means a sense of unexplained wonder at the world, in my case wonder at a book.

If you do read The Mara Crossing, tell me what you think.

neelthemuse@ 2013

Check out my book Unsettled @ the Indireads Book Store:


Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Nature


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