Universal Language of Poetry

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There has never been a moment in my life, so far, in which I could relate a current situation that I found myself in, to that of a quote said by a famous philosopher 2000 years ago. The concept of using quotes from centuries ago to guide my actions today seemed pointless. That was until I found myself walking into a zen-like classroom in rural India where 16 eager students were sitting on the floor waiting to learn Japanese style poetry from me. The saying “Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach” (Aristotle) popped into my head. Was I someone who could do both?

I had prepared my lesson plan: an introduction to Haiku, Senryu, and Tanka. All three, types of Japanese poetry which have a zen quality to them and a particular syllable structure. I kept trying to simplify the lesson, not knowing how my audience would receive the plethora of information I was going to try to give them. Having learned beforehand that English was not their first language, I made sure that I could explain every point I was going to make in excessive detail. Going into the session, I innately doubted the children's ability to grasp what I thought was an esoteric and refined form of poetic writing.

As I sat at the center of the ceremonial circle surrounded by 16 YIL’s (all in 9th or 10th grade), I could feel the nerves closing in. To break the tension in the air, I began by asking each of them to introduce themselves. Immediately, the students responded with an infectious smile and an air of confidence. This process lasted about a minute, which meant that it was time for my planned lesson to begin.

I was told beforehand by my translator that keeping the attention of some of the children would be difficult. My devised solution was to play a game mid-lesson to help the kids interested enough to express their ideas about poetry. Sitting in the middle of the circle, I would throw a ball to a child whose turn it would then be to tell me either what he or she thought made up a good poem, or provide a brand new topic for a Haiku, Senryu, or Tanka.

I was stunned by the fact that these students gave me such insightful and profound answers, such as rhythm, rhyme, context and word choice. Each child had a unique perspective on this form of poetic writing and a different idea on what to write on: nature, artwork, and general observations in their day-to-day lives. After I had given my prepared talk, I asked each of the kids to pair up and write a poem with their partner’s help. I went around the circle offering the kids advice, but, for the most part, they were able to craft several poems by themselves.

I collected all of their work and we then played another game in which the students would try to guess what the author of the poem had written about and their interpretation of the poem. This exercise was made easy by the descriptive and simple language that was used by the kids. I was mesmerized by their command of the English language (their 2nd or 3rd language) and how well they interpreted each poem. Out of all the well-written works, one poem stood out for me.

'Oh, beautiful tree

An old man climbs the tall tree

He cut the branches.'

-S. Chidambaram,

9th Class, Z.P.H.S, Kothaindlu, A.P.

This student's awareness of a pressing issue, deforestation, in the villages of India and his ability to express the magnitude of the problem in such simple and contextually relevant terms was astounding! At the end of the lesson, one of the children confidently shouted out in Telegu, “Could you teach us some American songs?"   My training in classical Carnatic and Western music came in handy. We sang a prayer in Sanskrit for Lord Ganesha: "Mudakaratha Modakam", and then, proceeded to sing the Beatles tune "Yellow Submarine.”  The children loved every moment of it. This experience showed me that the quest for knowledge and fun is universal. The kids in the room were all deeply inquisitive and were willing to learn any new material that was thrown at them.

My goal for the session was to try to spark an interest in poetry in at least one child. To my great pleasure, five students asked me for my phone number so that they could send me their future work and seek my advice. After seeing how excited they were about learning Japanese poetry, I have decided to go back to Agastya to conduct future workshops in poetry.

After some careful reflection on the poetry session, I realized that Aristotle’s quote needed a further modification. The experience of hands on teaching in my case, cemented my own understanding of poetry, its subjective nature and its ability to communicate with everybody in the world. Not the other way around as coined by Aristotle.

Poetry can be written by anyone who is willing to put the time and dedication as demonstrated by the bright kids of Agastya. While there are some basic tools that poets must possess, (understanding of rhyme, rhythm, meter, alliteration among others), it transcends all borders and boils down to curiosity and passion. These motivated kids from rural India who are so in touch with nature and their own feelings, if given the right encouragement and opportunity will make great poets some day.

Govind Ramakrishnan,

Trinity School, NYC.

Here is a link to more of Govind's poems:



  1. Martin Michel

    This is a great article Govind. Giving back one's time is the best form of charity.
  2. Phil Miller

    Well done young man! The gift of poetry is special and the kids of Agastya will love you for it.
  3. Yuko Onishi

    Am so proud of you Govind. Teaching Japanese poetry to the village kids of India, is special indeed.
  4. Jenny Strraton

    Nicely written Govind, it must have been a great experience for you and a wonderful journey for the school children
  5. Steven Parker

    Noble cause and what a wonderful thing to do Govind. Even one poet from those kids and to have done the world a favor.
  6. Chuck Ferdinand

    Good work Govind and full credit to Agastya for helping the transformation of the youth in India. Very proud of your effort:
  7. Kelly Norton

    Teaching kids is a truly rewarding experience and special thing to do. Am so happy that you have started to give back from a very young age. Well done Govind.
  8. Kathy Duet

    Each of those kids must have felt very special because of what you did. We are so proud Govind that you at a young age have decided to teach these children. inspiring even one kid to write is a worthy cause.
  9. Rick Rockwell

    I loved the story about the kid that was concerned about deforestation in his village. Kids are very observant and harnessing this power at a young age is truly good through poetry. Well done Govind.
  10. Bob Perl

    This is cool stuff Govind. The kids in India will benefit greatly from this experience. Proud of your efforts.
  11. Al Lindsay

    Am so thrilled to read this Govind. Even one kid motivated to pursue inquiry is good for all mankind.
  12. Nicholas Savanti

    Wonderful blog Govind. It must have been exciting to teach the children there.
  13. Shuba Ghosh

    Govinda, teaching is the best way to give back. A lesson given to a child could be for life, Well done.
  14. Mike Cohen

    It was great to read your blog and delighted to note that you taught a session on poetry for the village kids of India. Minds need to be extended and they can do amazing things. Bravo Govind!
  15. Ajit Kumar

    There are so many talented kids in India. Every effort to find this talent and bring it to the limelight is public service. Well done Govind, we are so proud of you.
  16. Gerry Fried

    Nice work Govind. Am sure the kids were pumped up to learn some new stuff.
  17. Chris Guy

    My hats off to the kids who stepped up to take on the challenge of poetry and congrats Govind for getting them out of their comfort zone,
  18. Erica Shire

    Teaching kids is the most amazing giving back that any one can do. Kudos to Govind for giving his time to a worthy cause.
  19. Trevor Botham

    Keep up the great work. India needs talented youth like you to propel her to a leadership position. There are so many talented kids there.
  20. Wei Ling

    Proud of your efforts Govind. Have been reading your poems and they are special. Finding a few bright spots from talented India should be easy to do. Best to you!
  21. Bob Davis

    Essence of life is giving back to others, in small and big ways. You should be proud Govind:
  22. Cindy Bespolka

    I loved the poem of the young boy who attempted To write Haiku. That is so sweet. Well done Govind, we are proud of you.
  23. Ali Vecchiomondo

    What a great idea to teach village children poetry in India. It shows your dedication and passion Govind. Even one future poet from that group is worth more than a thousand investment bankers.
  24. Balaji Shrinivas

    I'm so happy that you've taken the time to go to India and do this. Hope you serve as an inspiration for other teen children in India to follow in your footsteps.
  25. Vlad Tsiavorov

    Keep your feet firmly on the ground and reach out for those stars. Great job Govind.
  26. Amy Winkler

    This is so wonderful. Giving one' sown time now the highest form of giving. Great to hear that the kids loved it.
  27. Lydia Tress

    Gift of poetry to children is one of the most precious things that we can give. We are proud of your efforts to make this happen to the village kids of India.
  28. Aslam Sawari

    Very nicely written piece Govind. Says a lot about your dedication and effort to give back.
  29. Vel Mannan

    Proud of the terrific work that you are doing. Kudos to the kids of Agastya.
  30. Narayan Damodar

    Its is lovely to see the picture of all the kids with their curiosity aroused. There is so much talent in India, that its amazing. Great job Govind, what you are doing is special.
  31. Sal Vernon

    One child at a time... Our society can be transformed. The path shown by this young man is indeed special.
  32. Brian Rose

    Bravo Govind. Time given for a great cause is "world transformed". Keep up the great work!
  33. Lionel Cohen

    Each child is special and gifted, the more time and attention we pay to them, the stronger is that society. Proud of you Govind.
  34. Sundar Raman

    How wonderful is it to see children engaged and driven to try new things. Excellent article Govind, we are proud of your efforts and time invested.
  35. Andy Browning

    Great cause and a great way to do it. Well done!
  36. Tim Pappadopolus

    I like the amendment to Aristotle's saying that you learnt from this wonderful act of giving your time and energy. I'm sure there was a lot more learning that the kids experienced as well.
  37. Dmitri Silosky

    Keep the great work Govind. I loved your article.
  38. Manny Quinten

    The youth are the best change agents in the world. When they lead by example like Govind, the results are truly magical. Sparking their curiosity as you've talked about is the answer.
  39. Vidya

    Good job Govind...happy especially to know "mudakaratha modhakam" became handy....congrats
  40. Candi Deschamps

    It is a joy to share what you love with youngsters, isn't it? Bravo, Govind--and keep it up!
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