To Catch A Poem: An Anthology for Young People

[SI_section_desc description=”A review by Malathy Sitaram” text_color=”#393939″]

It was with a keen sense of anticipation that I began to browse through the poems in To Catch a Poem which has a sub-title: An Anthology for Young People. I would suggest that it is an anthology for the Young at Heart. I found myself smiling a great deal as I flitted through poems at random which collectively lifted my spirits and made me glad that poetry of high quality is flourishing in my home town today. Memories of my own childhood and teenage years in Mumbai flooded back. I do not regret the very colonial education I received in the convent school I attended because it offered a gateway to English Literature which continues to occupy a very high pedestal in the world of Literature. I can still recite some of the poems we learned. Shakespeare’s plays are now performed in Indian languages in India.


To Catch a Poem is an anthology of poems lovingly and very professionally put together and edited by two poets, Anju Makhija and Jane Bhandari who are both well-known in Mumbai. They have selected poems from existing anthologies with a keen ear for good poetry. Each of them has also contributed poems to this anthology. I am very impressed by the credentials of the chosen poets, numbering sixteen individuals plus a collection of poems by pupils at Rishi Valley School.


The sixteen adult poets have won much acclaim and awards for their published work. The book is structured in sections of poems by different authors and each section is prefaced with some details of the particular poet’s literary career.


In every section, the first page is illustrated with wonderful and witty ink drawings by one Ratnakar Ojha which are most eye catching and completely in tune with the spirit of the book. I have fallen in love with these drawings.


The publisher of this book is Sahitya Akademi which has a reputation for nurturing good writing. No wonder then that the book makes for such good reading. It has an attractive cover with images of kites floating upwards. The binding is of high quality that will withstand much handling! Both front and back end pages depict a stunning photographic reproduction of a panel of Buddhist sculpture which depicts a court scene in which a scribe is using a writing implement to record the words of three soothsayers. We are told that this is the earliest pictorial record of writing in India which goes back to the second century A.D. and the original can be seen at the National Museum in Delhi.


Poetry is back in a big way in Britain now. There are poetry festivals all over the country which attract big audiences and poets are making their voices heard as never before.


Could this be attributed to the almost universal use of social media? Previously, Poetry was very much a minority interest and simply did not sell very well although Britain has produced more than its fair share of poets over the ages, some of whose work is part of the British literary canon and is taught at school and university.


At school in Mumbai, we progressed from learning nursery rhymes to catchy jingles to accompany our skipping rope games. Later, we explored the work of famous poets, some of which cannot be erased from my memory. At this stage we were introduced to figures of speech, such as metaphor and how and when to use them. As a school teacher, I found that the best way to arouse young children’s interest in poetry was to give them a free hand in writing their own poems after listening to poems suitable for their age. The funnier and cheekier the poem, the greater the interest.


to catch a poemSo many poems in this collection have caught my attention and I am sad that space limitation does not permit all of them to be flagged up. I will however comment on a few. The first section by Sampurna Chatterji is very worthy of note. She writes with apparent ease on subjects that would attract teenagers and is very skilled in using structure, rhyme and rhythm that make her work so readable. The Electric  Caterpillar is the title of a poem about an electric train and the regular rhyme scheme and pronounced rhythm of every stanza is a fine example of her art. Here’s an example:


Crowded with Bodies
Clouded with noise
Hissing and spitting
Teeming with poise.

Adil Jussawalla, another poet, has an ear fine-tuned to a child’s world view. His poems would get a class laughing. I like Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s work very much. In Childhood Tree, she describes climbing it:

The bark’s roughness on which ran rivers
Of black ants, bird calls and wings on leaf and fruit;
Light that dipped, rustled and smelt of rising sap.


Vivek Tandon’s funny “loopy limericks” sit side by side with other more serious, descriptive poems while S.S. Prasad’s Elegy To The Postman is thought provoking. It ends thus:

I don’t need you any more. I have 1GB mail space in my computer free, And my virtual postmaster does a faster delivery Without a bicycle bell to punctuate the streets.


Jane Bhandari’s poem Kathakali Trains is brilliantly evocative in its use of onomatopoeia and rhythm. I read it several times. Temsula Ao from Nagaland has impressive credentials which are well justified by her very imaginative poems. Rohinton Daruwala has written some very clever poems which remind me of the work of the English poet, Edward Lear. I still love The Owl and the Pussycat. Shanta Acharya’s poems are excellent. I was very impressed by her Imagine which asks us to imagine the beauties
of nature and ends with:

Now open your eyes wide and imagine
Our rich world bereft of nature’s blessing.

Anju Makhija’s poems are diverse in subject and style and reflect her skill. The Coconut Tree and The Train Vendor both impress. The selection of poems by Rishi Valley School pupils is very good indeed. Their work presupposes an excellent teacher who has got his/her pupils to respond so effectively. They have understood the requirements of poetry writing. I am bowled over by Randhir Khare’s poetry. Requiem is particularly poetic in its use of similes, its vocabulary and the questions it raises. Keki Daruwalla is a long-established poet in Mumbai and his clever use of rhyme schemes and story poems must work very well with children.

It seems unjust to end without acknowledging the respective talents of the remaining writers who are Mustansir Dalvi, Jeet Thayil, Sivakami Velliangiri and R.J. Kalpana, all of whom share a common talent with the poets whose work I have touched upon. Their poems too are funny, clever, enigmatic, whimsical and always worth reading.

To Catch A Poem is published by Sahitya Academy (ISBN 978-81-260-4250-0) and is a book I would recommend to children of all ages and that includes adults.


Malathy Sitaram was the first Asian
teacher of English in Wiltshire schools.