Click to view Profile
Akila G
‘Paper Asylum’
Akila G

Rochelle Potkar
Paper Asylum
Japanese form of Poetry
Copper Coin Publishing, 2018
ISBN: 978-93-84109-26-4
Pp 120 | 295

Paper Asylum: A kaleidoscope

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
 – Oscar Wilde

What is a prose without a lyrical narrative or a poetic subtlety?

What is a poem without a hint of a story wrapped in it?

The answer, you may find in a prose poem carrying both the flavours and quite often found in poetry collections too. But the book Paper Asylum chooses to walk on a slightly different path where the Japanese genre of haiku, haibun and tanka written in English language are woven in a blend with the contemporary free verse of poetic prose, therefore, prose poetry. In this sangam, the title stands up to its name – a refuge sought in words and verse while dwelling in a fabric soaked in a panorama of relationships and experiences transcending borders.

The classic form of haibun was seeded in Japan by Matsuo Basho when he became a wanderer and decided to write down his travelogues. A writer who would never leave his words as a mere account of an event or an incident, Basho would distil the essence of the journey in a haiku like dewdrops on a petal promising the lingering fragrance of his narrative. Haiku is a short form of poetry of not more than three lines, also originated in Japan among other short forms of tanka, renku, tan-renga. It has travelled across the world and been adopted in several languages. In India, this short form of poetry has found home in Tamil, Kannada, Punjabi, Malayalam, Bangla, Marathi along with English. This blend of haiku or tanka (the five-line verse) lends the lucidness of prose with a suppleness of poetry together weaving a tapestry and thus, haibun was born.

In contemporary writing, this form is yet to settle down at home with free verse under one umbrella of acceptance. However, there are a few accomplished voices who have established their works under this umbrella and Potkar has taken the step.

The book Paper Asylum floats with the narrative of a prose and the deftness of the Japanese short forms of poetry. Potkar begins with a few well woven tanka (five-line poems) offering a view into the world of Japanese short forms of poetry that stand up to the idiom ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ A good haiku or tanka should soak in minimalism unravelling the depth of all that can be said in a few words and a good measure left on the table for the reader to tag along. The reader may find the path to the poet or carve one for himself where the verse would unravel a different canvass of a point of view or perception. Therein lies the beauty of these short forms of poetry. Potkar builds in the prose, each one tethered to a haiku or a tanka that blossoms into a haibun which is nothing but a delectable palette of prose poetry. True to the form, she indulges in ‘show and not tell’; words take their colour and position in a canvass, assume character and speak tongues.

Potkar is a skilful short story writer and an enriched poet and she is able to infuse life into her words, each one carefully plucked and chosen to anoint the windows in her world of stories. It is this craftiness that mellifluously strings the stories, each one falling into its natural form that would take in the reader. The form mutates from haibun to free verse to haibun seamlessly keeping the substance of ‘Paper Asylum’ intact. 

The author’s vivid images pull us from deep within of our own madcap days, nights and lull noon where we aren’t mere spectators of time but find a figment of time in ourselves locked in the narrow corridors of livelihood and beliefs. Be it Aparanta, Manojji, the secretive Selena, Chabad House, the effervescent Spice garden, the juxtaposed Samsara, the ethereal Lake Vostok, to mention a few. The book explores the geography of skins of stories from love, lust, secrets, desires, dreams, hope, prayer, human interferences; a skyline of what makes us, moulds us, breaks and mends us in this journey of life that never misses an exclamation mark. In the author’s words:

‘Each wave coming and going decides’.

The book is a bouquet, perhaps from her own collections woven in Iowa during the writer’s residence, Mumbai, Goa, childhood, teen, parenthood. It doesn’t matter when one reads journeys that carries a bit of every shade of melanin. One may wrap around the warmth or sip in the cool syrup of words or simply choose to count moments floating by in the balcony, reflective of our own surroundings. The narrative dances in the subconscious and drops in a fruit of haiku for the next destination in the true spirit of this confluence of prose poetry. A thought-in-process for the reader where he continues on the trail to complete the circle and meets the author or spins concentric for another reader to waltz along seeking refuge in ink crafted on paper.

There is more than a single pathway to traverse seasons, places, people and moods while deciphering a haiku, distilling a haibun flowing from one line to another and into a free verse. The effortless transition in the book dilutes the wall between the two forms of prose poetry explored in haibun and free verse as they both subject themselves to a varied degree of prospect associated with their interpretation making them a delectable form bound in a single piece of literature. A haiku in this collection that complements this element of prose and poetry is:

lightning forks –
the many paths
to the top of the hill

It is in the narrative of these stories that Potkar infuses a style in an otherwise traditional form of prose-poetry. To quote her from one of her own haibun:

‘Stories sometimes are better. It fills us up like water. Distance, the best carrier, time, the best editor’

and ‘We hear stories, contradictory, sometimes, time lapsed, unchronicled.’

Is this an experiment or a new trend? Time will tell but then, what fun is it to be a writer without a bit of exploration and experiment? How can imagination be ever consistent as Oscar Wilde chose to ask!


Issue 80 (Jul-Aug 2018)

Book Reviews
  • Akila G: ‘Paper Asylum’
  • Ashish Negi: ‘The Goat Thief’
  • Atreya Sarma U: ‘Beyond the Canopy of Icicles’
  • Atreya Sarma U: ‘Knee Jerks & Gallop Rhythms’
  • Kalyanee Rajan: ‘Soft Skills and Employability Skills’
  • Kalyanee Rajan: ‘Invisible Ties’
  • R S Chulki: ‘The Queen of Kittur’
  • Shymasree Basu: ‘All the Lives We Never Lived’