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Talking Books

Anmol Sandhu talks to Sonia Chauhan about her book This Maze of Mirrors

Hi Joanna. Thanks for talking to The Wise Owl


RS: Your collection of Cherita ‘river lanterns’ has been released recently. Our readers would be eager to know (as I am) what inspired you to write this beautiful collection of 90 virgin Cherita. 


JA:  I have been published in Ai Li’s Cherita journals for a while and love writing in this form.  I mentioned in my email correspondence to Ai Li that I aspired to have my own Cherita collection published.  She offered to edit my selection of poems from a large selection that I sent her.  I would say my inspiration came from reading Ai Li’s own collections of her Cherita verse, they are so beautiful. 


When I began writing these, I was mindful to really show me as not only a writer but as the person beneath and how the Cherita form bends to the art of storytelling.  It took me some time to write these and I am delighted with the narrative that Ai Li made with her choices for my book.  When another person chooses, they can distance themselves from your work and look critically at what you have sent.  It was a real honour for me to entrust the creator of the Cherita with my work.



RS: Your book is a collection of Cherita verse. Cherita is a genre of recent origin (1997). Tell us what attracted you to this genre of poetry. Were there any creative influences in your life that encouraged you to adopt this genre as your own.


JA:  I am attracted to this genre of poetry as I hold a deep reverence for Ai Li’s poetry and the short form poetry forms as a collective.  I was excited to see that Ai Li had developed this new genre.  She published my short form verse in the 1990s in her journal Still and I was sad when this was no longer in print.  I enjoyed the challenge of learning how to write this new form and find it really resonates with me as a writer.


I discovered her new form of Cherita and was hooked by these story gems.  I really admire the way that the Cherita journals are produced and enjoy reading the work within these.  As a writer it is important to keep on working at your craft and I love it when I get to enjoy the work of a fellow poet in the same genre. 


RS: River Lanterns has been edited and published by ai li, the creator of Cherita as a genre. How was the experience of connecting with the doyen of Cherita and having her select your Cherita?


JA:  As I mentioned earlier Ai Li had published my work in the 90s, then through offering Cherita to her for publication, the connection was reborn.  I have always enjoyed reading Ai Li’s poetry and I have found her to be a gracious supporter of my Cherita.  Sending my work to the creator of the genre I think really made me conscious that I had to elevate my writing to meet the standards to have enough quality Cherita for my own individual collection.  The experience is something that I will treasure as I now have a collection published other people can enjoy and will hopefully encourage them to do the same.


RS: Cherita is said to be a unique form of storytelling…storytelling in 6 lines. M Kei says that Cherita verse ‘combine the evocative power of tanka with the narrative of a personal story, like the vignettes we glimpse as we sit in a café and watch the world go by.’ Do you agree ? For the benefit of the readers would you please elaborate on this.


JA:  Yes, I think M Kei’s insight is correct.  Cherita to me contain the voice/song/whispers around the campfire as the stories unfold.  They can be written about such a wide range of experiences, focused through the lens of the individual. I love the power of tanka, and I see Cherita as a close cousin, both forms use beautiful language to sing a fragment of the world that we live in.


RS: I feel what differentiates Cherita from narrative storytelling, is that it tells a story about life & our spiritual journey. This is very true of your Cherita:


have you
found it yet

the fun arcade

where wishes
are the alchemy
of breath


What are your thoughts on this?


JA:  Yes, I feel a real connection with Cherita and my spiritual side.  This is an element that attracts me to using this form.  It allows me to explore and highlight aspects that may not be accepted in other types of verse.  The Cherita can be used as a blank canvas for me to embed my perspective of my inner and outer world through stories. 


RS: What are the themes or stories you have touched upon in your various Cherita verse?


JA:  Where to begin…  The Cherita in this collection provides a map of my highs and lows.  They reveal how I see the world and feel about it.  I enjoy adding elements of fairytales, myths, rich imagery, and aspects of the natural world.  The importance of love, loss, friendship, connections, truth etc. all are within.  The Cherita captures a moment of beauty, in time, often of universal things that happen to all of us but told from the narrator’s perspective.    Often there is a vein of spirituality running through the verse.



RS: There are some cherita terbalik also in your collection. For the benefit of our readers please tell us how this form is different from Cherita and why we need a different syllable arrangement for this form of poetic storytelling


JA:  The Cherita terbalik also tells a story but ‘terbalik’ is the Malay word for upside down or reversal (   It is a different arrangement of the original Cherita stanza format.  By using another variation of the Cherita format it enables the writer to alter the flow of the story that they are telling, such as the example from my collection below:


the ruby shoes

the glass slipper

the fairy dust


as a child

I imagined all


in my cupboard


To me this verse is stronger with the terbalik arrangement.  Writing Cherita I make a judgement as to which stanza suits the flow of the story.


RS: Do you also write in other genres like haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun on a regular basis?  Which is your favorite genre among all these genres (we know your fondness for Cherita of course)


JA:  Yes, I also write in other genres such as haiku, senryu, tanka, Haibun and other short form verse.  I began writing contemporary poetry first and then I discovered haiku when I was looking for poetry journals to read and subscribe to.   I fell in love with haiku and feel that they are the guardians of nature and our world.  I find short form poetry very special; these dewdrops of tiny forms really capture a sense of the world around us. 


I see the bonds between these genres as strings from the same bow –


the heart harp


wind and rainfall

skeins from sky


this humming

of a melody

our soul bonds


Selecting a favourite is like asking a parent to choose a child.  They all hold a place in my heart.  I began with haiku and then progressed to tanka – aspects of the heart.  These are the two that led me into this world of short form poetry and were my entry point for exploring and discovering other genres.  I wouldn’t like to be without any one of them as they each offer a different way to express aspects of the world and my own life journey. 


RS: What advice would you give budding poets of Cherita verse?


JA:  The advice I would give to writers of any verse is to READ, READ, READ.  Study the form, work on your craft, support the journals that publish them – if you want to write them, then surely you will enjoy reading them. Write, keep on writing and honing, learning the form, find your own style/voice, make connections in the writing world – even if online and listen and appreciate editorial advice – they have a vast range of experience, and this is how you grow as a writer.  The short form poetry world is a beautiful, supportive place.  When you buy a journal that publishes Cherita verse or another genre, be open to learning and see how well other writers use the form.  Try and buy the collections of writers that you admire, this keeps our writers’ world vibrant and alive.


Thank you, Joanna, for taking time out to talk to The Wise owl about your beautiful book. We wish you the best and hope you make this unique storytelling genre rich with your verse.


Thank you so much for asking me to talk to you. 

The Magic Pen Press
44 Lattice Avenue,
Ipswich, Suffolk,
United Kingdom


Neena Singh talks to Dr Pravat Kumar Padhy about his forthcoming book 'I am a Woman.'

Talking Books

NS: What inspired you to write a book titled ‘I am a Woman’ as a ‘man’ poet?


PKP: Thank you, Neena, for offering me an opportunity to speak about my forthcoming collection of verses, ‘I am a Woman.’ I record my sincere gratitude to Dr. Rachna Singh, the Principal Editor, The Wise Owl, for featuring my interview in the special column of ‘Talking Books.’  


I chose writing poetry as it symbolizes the power of feminism in its tenderness and musicality. In the column ‘Letter to Editor, Indian Express’, December 5th 1984, I voiced my support for education to girl children to bestow confidence on them and redress social balance. I underline gender equality and respect for womanhood in many poems written during the eighties and the nineties. I once emphatically put forth: ‘…Why crazy/ Snatching her surname/ The born identity/ Her parental tie.’ (Poem: Married Woman).


Women symbolize creation, beauty, love, kindness, compassion, and harmony. In our culture and tradition, the woman is revered as shakti or power (Durga), knowledge and wisdom (Saraswati), fortune and prosperity (Lakshmi).


Despite progress in gender equality, we have socio-cultural issues related to women and this needs to be addressed keeping in view of the progressive phase of mankind at large. Rightly, Dalai Lama says, “I call myself a feminist. Isn’t that what you call people who fight for women’s rights?”


I feel if male equally realizes the problem and comes forward with a comprehensive solution, it would look pragmatic and progressive. This led me to write the present collection, ‘I am a woman.’


NS: How did you choose this format of tanka verses as a long-connected poem to tell the story of a woman?

PKP: I like to compose micro poetry or shorter verses along with longer verses. Tanka, the Japanese form of the 5-line short poem, has a profound scope to embody human feelings with poetic essence and lyrical exposition. Hence, I chose to write the long poem in this format. We may recall that all the classic works of Japanese diary literature about love, passion, and lamentation have been written with prose along with waka (tanka) poetry.


NS: How did you approach the subject of womanhood in your 5 lined tanka poetry?


PKP: No doubt being a male writer, apparently it looks difficult to delve into the theme and imageries from the perspective of feminist poetry. I have read many poems by female poets namely Eunice de Sauza, Amrita Pritam, Gouri Deshpande, Meena Alexander, Mani Rao, Sunita Jain, Kamala Das, Sarita Jenamani, Rupi Kaur and others. I have seen social imbalance, and the sufferings of women. I feel moved by the grieving situation and the psychological torments a woman has to face because of gender bias. I could see the love and affection her parents bestowed on her and the apparent contrast the moment she enters into the phase of her married life. In the present collection, I have tried to sketch the phases of memorable ecstasy with her parents, sufferings and trauma at a later stage and her courage to fight back with feminine modesty and integrity. 


NS: Can you share some of the themes or motifs that are explored in your latest book?

PKP: The collection, ‘I am a Woman’ is a sort of long poem written in the form of fictional verse with candour poetic styles and imageries. It portrays the life sketch of a woman named Chandni. She demonstrates her resilience to face socio-psychological challenges. Chandni belongs to a modest family with limited financial support. She recalls the early life of joy ‘…mummy holds her/ fondly closing the eyes/ and feels beats of rhythm together.’ But the happiness lasts for a brief period and after her marriage, she wonders: ‘she offers /aroma to all/ how strange/ the thorns that protect/ at last, pierce her to bleed.’ The agony she faces as ‘he scratches her skin/ like wiping over the doormat / as if a mopping cloth/ he cleanses his dust/ ungracefully pouring the foam of his sin.’ She runs from pillar to post for justice, but to no avail. In spite of the hurdles, she is optimistic: ‘like an adrift tree/ she is hurt and drained / trusts the woman of justice / holding the beam balance /on the cover page of the Social science.’


NS: What challenges did you face in capturing the essence of a woman through your poems?

PKP: It has been a constant striking point to keep the critical balance of expression from the point of view of a grief-stridden woman. The structural fabric of language, rhythm and poetic landscape have been dealt with sensibility and succinctness. As the collection is a sensitive issue immersed in agony and seclusion on the part of the woman, I have to tread carefully with poetic idioms, text, and texture without being didactic or rhetorical. Moreover, I tried my best to portray feminist poetry in its true spirit and translate it with veracity and sincerity.


Diana Webb pens in her blurb: “…With elements of the elegiac, lyrical and cathartic, it is a paean to the feminine principle, as embodied in the tale of one member of womankind and promises rich rewards for anyone with a poetic soul.”


NS: Did you rely on personal experiences or research to understand the female perspective in your poetry or any particular woman, real or fictional, who served as a muse or influence for your poetry?

PKP: I have been keenly observing the plight of some families and the emotional stories of women. That is what stirred me to show the prevalent domestic violence and patriarchal culture through poetry. Chandni is a fictional character.


NS: How do you think your perspective as a man influenced the way you portrayed women in your book?


PKP: Well, I am conscious of my ‘male’ self. At the same time, I try and journey into the female psyche so that I am able to articulate a woman’s perspective with conviction. I perceive female psychology and immerse myself in the character, in order to highlight them through words and portray reality. Honestly, many such stories remain untold and buried. My poetry is a eulogy to womanhood.


NS: What themes or issues related to womanhood did you explore in your book?

PKP: The attitude of a male-dominated society towards women is one of the striking aspects enumerated in my book. The unbearable pain, anguish, social prejudices and tension that a woman undergoes have been reflected. Post-marriage issues and related family problems are placed before the readers.


Jenny Ward Angyal comments, “and this book traces the life of one representative woman from childhood, when she learns ‘the alphabet of body,’ through harsh and despairing adulthood, when ‘waves wash away / her lengthy inner script,’ to the resurgence of hope as she seeks to ‘revise the pristine manuscript for her daughter.’ That manuscript is a celebration of woman and a poetic hymn to the feminine principle.”


NS:  What message or emotion do you hope readers will take away from ‘I am a Woman’?

PKP: I hope the readers will realize the journey of life of a woman is different from man, her counterpart, and the dignity of a woman needs to be respected. I stretched and metaphorically intensified the loneliness Chandni had undergone.


NS:  How do you see your role as a male poet in contributing to the ongoing conversation about gender and identity?

PKP: The present time desires an equal space for men and women. Men should not shy away from raising concerns about women. Mutual involvement and mutual respect are essential to build a comprehensive family life. Irrespective of caste, creed and gender, if we feel it is ‘our’ problem and to be solved by ‘ourselves’ jointly, then there won’t be any dichotomy or bewilderment in family life. As ‘Male Ally’, jointly we can make a happy and cohesive family life.


NS: What do you believe is the importance of men exploring and expressing the female experience through art?

PKP: Man and woman are two sides of the same coin with distinct symbols on both sides. But the aesthetic value of the coin is unique and the same. Art is a mirror. It is the way one sees, thus reflecting the contours of his thoughts. I recall one of my poems written in the eighties:


‘Unveil the art/It is/Alive/It lives/Not in itself/But in your/Angle of/Mind and eyes.’


It is like we have two garden paths. But the breeze carries the aroma in all possible directions. Man needs to inhale to realize this philosophical aspect of life.


NS: Can you share any memorable moments or experiences that occurred during the creation of ‘I am a Woman’?

PKP: In fact, while writing the collection over a long time, I experienced the feeling of being an actress absorbed in the cinematic scope of the script. That is an interesting experience. I wish her a happy life when she gives birth to a baby girl. Being elated, I encourage her to cherish: ‘life is a poem and music its journey.’


I became very conscious while writing the concluding stanza of the collection. The last line ‘I am a Woman’ to prove again’ of the final stanza engulfed me in the pain and agony of my protagonist.


Suparna Ghosh, a prolific writer and visual artist from Canada pens in her Foreword, “Perhaps, I thought, by intertwining the layers of Devi, the Goddess of my vision, with his view of Chandni, the moonbeam, I would be according a befitting offering to I am a Woman.”


NS: How do you balance the line between personal expression and respectful representation when writing about gender or identity that differs from your own?

PKP: One’s perceptions and way of interpretation emanate from the cognitive sphere. I try to remain unbiased and optimistic in my approach to exploring the path leading to the destination. No doubt, as a male author, a critical balance and congenial space are essential. I am particular about the usage of words and try to imbibe as Robert Frost said, “Poetry is when our emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”


I think in art and literature, a sense of integrity and honesty is essential.


NS:  In what ways do you believe poetry can contribute to discussions around gender and identity?

PKP: I feel art has immense depth to fathom the aspirations of mankind.  Poetry can create a flagship of mutual respect and brotherhood through its rhythm and resonance.


As an allusive to Wordsworth’s phrase: “the child is father of the man”, I coined the line “the child is mother of the woman” in my haibun titled ‘Leading the Way’.  Rebecca Drouilhet, the haiku moderator on Inkstone Poetry Forum, commented: “Beautifully and sensitively penned. The charm of the place and the relationship grounded me in the wholeness of the feminine.”


NS:  Can you share any particular poem from your book that you feel encapsulate the overall message or essence of ‘I am a Woman’?

PKP: I feel Chandni has to march ahead with the flow of time with a sense of optimism. She aspires to see her daughter enjoy the dawn of a new life. But we have the social responsibility to erase her apprehension of ‘I am a Woman’ to prove again.’ The following stanzas perhaps encapsulate the theme of the book.


wiping tears

gently from her face

with a needle of hope

she threads the pain in between

reading the life, like an anthology of poem



she desires to revise

the pristine manuscript

for her daughter

as she reckons with a crescent smile

‘I am a Woman’ to prove again


NS: Has writing ‘I am a Woman’ influenced your own understanding or perception of femininity and women's experiences in any way?


PKP: I have read feminist poetry written by Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath and Audre Lorde including poets from India, especially Kamal Das. I chose the title of the book using the first-person pronoun ‘I’ to emphasize integrity and conviction. During writing, I felt the anxieties and sufferings of a woman and her psychological condition.


This reinforces the responsibility of the male counterparts for fostering a happy family and prosperous society at large. In life, if we embrace “Odd is the beginning of even/Imperfection is the part of perfection / And vacuum is the venue of accumulation” (excerpt from my earlier poem ‘If I were an Ugly Girl’) then our world would be a land of the joy of living.


NS:  Would you like to share with our readers the writing, editing & publishing process?

PKP: I started writing this collection in mid-2019. I continuously revised the manuscript and focused on the woman-centric emotional cadence. Some of the stanzas have been published in leading journals namely Borderless International, Lyrical Passion Poetry, MoonInk Tanka Poetry Anthology, Presence, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, In Sun, Snow & Rain Tanka Anthology (British Haiku Society) and others.

I added the beginning part of the collection later to highlight the love and affection a girl child receives from her parents. This enhanced the contrast images. I record with great indebtedness to my poet friend Diana Webb who introduced me to John Gonzalez, the poet and publisher of The Magic Pen Press, London. I am grateful to John, Frank Williams and Tony Marcoff for their immense interest and inspiration in publishing the book. Shloka’s elegant cover page art made an aesthetic assimilation to the content of the collection.


NS:  What advice would you give to aspiring poets who aim to explore and express gender-related themes in their own writing?


PKP: Gender is just a word. “...wisely nature/ never coins in evolution/ defining a tree: male or female.” Poetry can be an effective vehicle for social change. It becomes poetically critical to translate the ‘voice behind silence’ of the emotionally distraught women. Aspiring poets can usher in a beautiful society if we are optimistic and embrace the sense of oneness and spirit of love.

About Dr Pravat Kumar Padhy

Pravat Kumar Padhy holds a Master of Science and a Ph.D from Indian Institute of Technology, ISM Dhanbad. He is a mainstream poet and a writer of Japanese short forms of poetry.  His poem 'How Beautiful' is included in the undergraduate curriculum at the university level. Pravat’s haiku won the Kloštar Ivanić International Haiku Award, Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Invitational Award, IAFOR Vladimir Devidé Haiku Award, 'Radmila Bogojevic' Haiku Award, Setouchi Matsuyama Photo Haiku Award and others. His haiku are published in many international journals and anthologies including in Red Moon Anthology. His haiku are featured at 'Haiku Wall', Historic Liberty Theatre Gallery in Bend, Oregon and at Mann Library, Cornell University. USA. His tanka is figured in 'Kudo Resource Guide', University of California, Berkeley. His tanka has been rendered to music in the Musical Drama Performance, ‘Coming Home’, The International Opera Through Art Songs, Toronto, Canada. His Taiga is featured in the 20th Anniversary Taiga Showcase of the Tanka Society of America. His  Video Haiga are archived in ‘HaikuLife: 2022’, The Haiku Foundation, USA. Pravat is nominated as the panel judge of ‘The Haiku Foundation Touchstone Awards’, USA and is presently on the editorial board of the journal, ‘Under the Basho’. Presently resides in Bhubaneswar, India with his wife, Namita. His publications can be read at

About Neena Singh
NeenaSinghprofile (1).webp

A Touchstone nominee in the Shortlist for Individual Poems in 2021, Neena is a banker turned poet. Her haikai poetry is regularly published in international journals and magazines. She has published two books of poetry—'Whispers of the Soul: the journey within' and 'One Breath Poetry'. She runs a non-profit for quality interventions in the education and health of underprivileged children in Chandigarh. Neena loves to play 'fetch ball' with her pet Rumi, and sit in the garden conversing with squirrels and pigeons.

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