Letting the geosmin out of the bottle

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiNov 27, 2014 | 14:11

Letting the geosmin out of the bottle

If there was a way to bury the rain, hide it in plain sight so that among a thousand words not one reader caught the faintest whiff of the monsoon, I would do it. But apparently, on the subcontinent, once the geosmin is out of the bottle, there is no putting it back in: all but one of the poems submitted to November's prompt were about the rain.


But like the seasons, what we have is what we must live with and so to the poems themselves.

This time, the poems submitted had a more clear idea of what they were saying. There were clear states of mind or shifts in time and place. In Upasana Singh's poem 'Rain', two lovers are walking in the rain in a scene influenced by cinema, and rain mists the speaker's glasses, which she removes to clean; and when she put them on again, her companion has vanished and become nothing more than a memory.

  • as those droplets came down I removed  glasses from my eyes
  • to feel the rain within and without
  • I happily danced in rain all soaked and wet ,
  • but then the rain had blurred my glasses
  • I couldn't see you ,find you
  • not knowing when you went away

While the poem has a certain clarity of emotion and narrative movement, it is hobbled by clichés and a strange reluctance to use the definite article (why not 'removed the glasses from my eyes' or 'danced in the rain'?). Words like 'droplets', phrases like 'hand in hand', 'happily danced', 'deep down I know' and the tautological 'soaked and wet' do nothing for the poem.


In Punyasloka Mohapatra's poem, also coincidentally called 'Rain', there are no memories or emotions evoked. Instead, what he has plumped for is a series of vivid snapshots of the rain. The sky - which he calls 'august', leaving it to the reader to decide if that means the month, or is an adjective - clears it throat in preparation for a concert, while the peacocks ready themselves for a dance. These details are both specific and grand.

The poem moves in short lines of three, and the most successful stanza of the poem makes a clever reference to Basho's most famous haiku:

  • Croaking Basho's name
  • To a nearby pond
  • A frog dived in shame.

I am not sure why the frog dives 'in shame' and nothing in the poem makes it clear, so I must assume that it is for the rhyme. In all else, this is a good three lines and the poem would be a much better one if it had ended there. Instead, Mohapatra has two more stanzas with tweeting birds that sigh and fat rats that come out to shout 'hell'. Knowing when to stop a poem is a skill that needs as much practice as being able to start one at all.


Maya Goel, who is a student, has sent in an untitled poem. Her poem begins outside where the rain overwhelms the landscape and then moves indoors, where a family sits in cosy domesticity, making jam, eating pizza and drinking hot chocolate. Goel has a good ear for rhyme and a decent sense of line. In one stanza she says,

  • Endless torrents pounding down
  • Gutters turn to rivers
  • The fragile plants droop and drown
  • A voice mid-song quivers

And in the next one,

  • Weeds grow like strong young trees
  • A stream is like the tide coming in

There is a strong sense of rampant movement in all directions, not just because of the active verbs but also because of the similes and the rhythm of the lines, so strongly reminiscent of Tennyson.

It's a good poem that would be better with a few more revisions: for instance, that old bugbear 'it's' is not interchangeable with 'its'; and these lines:

  • Drinking chocolate with a sigh
  • Juicing and jamming oranges we sit.

If the order of the actions were reversed, it would indicate domestic content more effectively.

Just for a change of season before we return to rain, there is David Jairaj's 'Waiting for Winter'. It is an ekphrasis, written to a photograph that I will not include in this column. The danger of showing me the image upon which a poem of this kind is based, of course, is that I might like the image better than the poem. What's that old bromide about a thousand words?

Like Goel, Jairaj also uses a rhyme scheme - less successfully - though his stanzas vary in length, in a sonnet-like manner, so that the poem consists of 20 lines. I suspect that this is in order to make use of my line limit rather than in answer to the need of the poem itself and so, also, not successful as a form.

The poem expresses a wish to experience the seasons, but especially winter, in the old-fashioned way, through the body and its failings - the blocked nose, the runny eyes, and the tongue that craves for spice (though 'It corrupts behaved tongues to wag for zesty pickles' is not the happiest way of putting it).

Jairaj does most when he says things simply, as when he begins a stanza with the line:

  • Now that we share a distance, but never the same day,

And ends it and the poem with the lines:

  • Winter. When else would the earth shrivel her aloof arms
  • And bring your side of the sphere in proximity to mine?

By the last stanza, he has moved from speaking generally to addressing his partner directly, with the kind of rhetorical flourish that might have been inspired by Donne's greatest love poems.

Sophia Pandeya's 'Rain Check' is a clever variation on the theme of rain that has so dominated this month's submissions. In it, the speaker, living in a cold northern land, makes rasam and remembers the subcontinental rain. The poem begins strongly, with a play on words, but it is a poem that deserves to be quoted in full:

  • Rain Check
  • Sophia Pandeya
  • She is seasoned
  • by changes
  • by north's
  • cold coast, tossing
  • empty ramen packet
  • into recycle bin
  • stirring a square concentrate's
  • broken broth into
  • made to pour clouds
  • pout of rasam's rouge, entwined in patina of long
  • legged ginger pared with hot buttoned clove rounding
  • the bend of her sound
  • as she dusts the motes
  • of ghazal to catch a monsoon's
  • signature lick, her distant
  • stamp, rain check with no
  • forwarding address

Of course, 'made to pour', 'entwined in patina' and 'dusts the motes' are awkward constructions and 'pared' is clearly a mistake, as is the singular 'recycle bin'; but 'long-legged ginger' and 'a monsoon's signature lick' are quite good. The poem begins and ends strongly and has at its centre the wonderful idea that food sharpens the senses and the memory of other places and times; and holds out the promise of return - a rain check.


Thank you all for your entries and do look out for December's prompt.

Last updated: November 27, 2014 | 14:11
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