Art & Culture

Everything comes in different shapes

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiDec 25, 2015 | 18:23

Everything comes in different shapes

After last month's single submission, I confess I was disheartened, while continuing to hope for more submissions. I'd forgotten what the good offices of a single teacher putting up the prompt on a board at a school could do: this month, there were more submissions than The Sideways Door has ever had. Even better, there were several other submissions as well.


Some poems were about size, some experimented with how the poem looked on the page. At least two people attempted concrete poems, with varying degrees of success. What was clear was that it's not as easy as it looks! At least three poets felt compelled to send in more than one poem (though the unspoken requirement is for a single poem per person) as if to make clear that shaping words into poems is a work in progress.

For this column I've chosen what I've liked or thought was interesting; I'm sorry I can't include every poem that was submitted.

Arun's poem "Clarity" is one of the two concrete poems and though its trophy-like shape was carefully made, the words were somewhat overwrought. His other poem, "On Driving Across Hebbal Flyover" promised specificity. I hoped for exact, evocative details of the city but barring the lines Grass still peeps[...]/ groomed and blackmailed/ by a lawnmower/ forced to sign/ some instrument of accession, it was more general than the title had led me to believe.

Bureaucrats, activists and poets throng the poem and I found I was mentally echoing Arun's line from the poem But wait, where are all the people? If not people, then the city from atop a flyover could have made for a canvas of varying and interesting shapes.


It's interesting to note how many people think of circles when they think of shapes. Niranjana's "How to Shape a Life" begins with the idea of circles both literal and metaphoric:

  • In the beginning it was all circles
  • The circle of the earth we called home
  • The circle of the sun that gave us hope
  • The circle of the eyes that were the windows to
  • the soul
  • The circle of the earrings that my mother wore
  • The circle of life

Eyes as "windows to the soul" and "circle of life" are avoidable clichés but I liked the detail of a mother's earrings. Niranjana concludes that we're square pegs in round holes, but ranges far in gathering this idea into a single poem:

  • The squares of the schoolbooks I'll never read
  • for the education I'll never have
  • Because of the square of the flag that has imprisoned my world.
  • And now as the bullet lodges in my ribs
  • There ceases to be circles or squares

This is a good time to point to Yehuda Amichai's poem "The Diameter of the Bomb" which is also about shape, but it's a dynamic one that has real, devastating effect.

Moksh's poem "The Greatest Predator" works with the simple yet effective idea of a pyramid:

  • A tiny harmless insect gets eaten by a frog,
  • Or by another bigger insect or by the little birds,
  • A frog gets eaten by a snake or a vulture,
  • Or other predatory birds and even small mammals.
  • The omallee mammals become food for the beasts,
  • The predators or in water by alligators and water snakes.

The straightforward, prose-like catalogue (what is an "omallee" though?) leads to the inevitable conclusion that homo sapiens, sitting at the apex of this pyramid, has changed the world irrevocably.

I wonder if it could have been a more visually interesting concrete poem if it were a pyramid-shaped mound of words comprising of creature names, with the word "man" perched at the top.

The same thought occurred to me when I looked at Koyna's poem titled "Morse Code". The poem is about a person, but to me it would have brilliant if it had been condensed to a few descriptors written entirely in morse code.

(I realise, though, that if that door opened, there would be poems in all kinds of other code that I would have no competence to read!)

From among the submissions by the young people from the school, there were some wonderful lines and thoughts. Here is a selection:

From Laya's "Black White and 3 Dimensional" I liked:

  • Circles, laughing to no rhythm
  • A smile is complete and warm, as the shape itself
  • Happiness at its present form

Niyati's "The Art of Shaping" describes a painter watching her work taking shape within the confines of the paper:

  • As my paper breathes in the bright
  • Vermilion hue my oranges craved
  • The red my apples requested.
  • [...]
  • it is time to fill those shadows.
  • Those curves that insist they exist.

Revanth's "Nights and Fruits" is a surreal, dream-like story of a being lured into a lake. There's a lot of mysterious, wonderful detail and a variety of fruit that take on a Roald Dahl-ish scale. A monster sneezes; either the speaker or the lake (I'm not sure which) trembles like "a curl of noodles". My favourite line, though, is:

  • Today I was invited by the lake.

That's a deceptively simple line and would make a great beginning to the poem which, with some work, could be quite interesting.

Of all the poems by the young people, Vasundhara's untitled poem is the most complete and evocative. So here it is in full:

  • solid. silk. grandmother.
  • dependable and stubborn.
  • delicate ivory. my mother.
  • smooth. calm. ocean.
  • as the stars -
  • my sister.
  • fly away to
  • laughter.

My thanks to Daanish, Karan, Vaishnavi, Aila and Shriya who also submitted poems.

Pongkhi Bujorbarua's poem "Fluid" begins by imagining days of the week as having specific shape and function and if that idea had been explored further, there might have been something interesting. Instead, the second and third stanzas drift in completely different directions.

Amlanjyoti Goswami's poem "Terminal 3" probably has the best opening lines of any poem submitted this month: All day, all night/ No sunsets describe perfectly the eternal daytime of the airport. I especially liked the lines "The warm arms of dark" and "the highway empty/ of thought's litter". Read the whole poem below.


Harish Mohan's "X(EX)" is a concrete poem that attempts to achieve the shape X while playing with the idea of things that touch briefly and then separate. There is an excess of punctuation and the line from Magritte is either a misquotation, a typo or both; but it makes for an interesting juxtaposition. Read the whole poem below.


The final poem is by Goirick Brahmachari. "Postcards from Chopta" is a lovely, subtle poem filled with white and silence, marked on the page by the placement of lines and words. My one quibble is with the word "Postcards" in the title, which seems inapposite. There's nothing about the poem that shares the fragmentary, telegraphic nature of the postcard. Read the whole poem below.


Thank you all for your submissions. I enjoyed reading every one of them and they made this month a special one for me. The Sideways Door wishes all of its contributors and readers a very happy new year. I will see you on the other side!

Last updated: December 25, 2015 | 18:23
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