Featured Poems

Feature Poet:
Rama K Ramaswamy

Rama K Ramaswamy is a geo-microbiologist and poet and through her PhD research, analyzed interactions between microbes and minerals, life in extreme environments and human-rock, geo-spatial relationships. She has published in the fields of Acid Mine Drainage, Microbial Ecology, Sedimentology, Paleontology and now poetry. Rama’s poetry, work in digital humanities and multimedia reflect her training, travels and experiences living in Asia, Europe and all over the US, especially in New England and her poetry, freelance articles and biography have been featured both nationally and internationally. She published her first book of poetry in 2011, Coming Full Circle and she is currently working on a second while also teaching (K-5 science enrichment) and producing TV shows, which promote Women Studies and discuss opportunities for and issues concerning STEM education.

Interviewed by Wayne Daniel Berard


(SL) Rama, you are a geologist, a founder in the field of geomicrobiology; you host your own TV show with a spotlight on women  --  and you are an outstanding poet! How do you do it all?
I don’t. I attempt to get things done everyday. When I was young I was advised to pick either biology or geology but I chose the non-existent third option, the nexus- geomicrobiology and became part of a small but determined community of scientists that is now, 20 years later, a force to be reckoned with and a major field of study! I suppose I’ve always been a bit rebellious! I’m also very curious by nature so I enjoy doing and learning new things just for the joy of it. Sometimes that’s good and other times I might appear unfocused to some. This is how different fields of interest and ideas influence my poetry (see next question).

(SL) Can you speak to us about how your different fields of interest inform your poetry?
I usually write, just write and then at some later date pull poems from here and there and put them together for a book in which there are similar themes or trends. Perhaps as people, we all imbibe a lot from our families, from our root cultures, and also from our own interests and experiences? All these, for me, have got into my being, been assimilated and then expressed through my creative processes.

(SL) You were born in southern India and, I understand, are a practicing Hindu.  Can you tell us about the role of this spirituality in your life and poetry?
Being a Hindu by birth and inclination, I suppose, a few basic tenets like karma and reincarnation exist in the matrix of my belief systems. Added to these are other systems of thought and philosophy from the West and the Far East; then there is the overlay of academics, travels, friendships and adventures. My writing materials and output are, no doubt, varied, multidimensional- to put it politely.

(SL) So, then, how do you understand the terms “spiritual poetry?” 
Being spiritual is a complex term. In wring, I would apply it to a system of beliefs in a particular context, in a particular poem or work. This is variable contextually but what sustains me is my belief there is some inherent goodness in all systems. Often I write about the mechanics of systems or thoughts inherent in belief systems themselves.

(SL) Tell us about your own coming to poetry? Was it incremental? Or did you have an “ah-ha” moment, when a poem spoke to you deeply for the first time? Both?
When I was first introduced to The Canterbury Tales in the 6th grade and asked to memorize a portion of The Prologue to recite to my class in a few weeks time, I thought that was it- the end of poetry. My mother is a (now retired) professor of literature and often wrote poetry and essays; as such the concept of writing and the genre of poetry were nothing unusual but rather part of the basket of things I took for granted around me. I did write some poetry in high school for a couple of poetry completions- which I won twice before graduating and although one of my undergraduate majors was in Literature- it was something I did out of enjoyment and really as ‘break’ from all the organic chemistry and theoretical physics classes I was taking rather than as something in which I intended to follow as a career. It was only after I really became ‘an adult’, (which I define as the period of my life after having kids) that I came back to poetry i.e. coming full circle, to my roots essentially. This is also the title to my first book- available on Amazon.com


(SL) Who are your poetic influences, and how have they affected you? Whose work do you turn to again and again? And are there any newer poets out there that speak to you at present?
I remember reading the short but profound poems of Emily Dickinson when I was very young, eventually graduating to classics like T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman and later Sylvia Plath. I do return often to the romantic poets especially Keats, Yeats and Coleridge. There are many modern poets who are excellent (shout-out to my Soul-Lit colleagues!)- I enjoy a wide range of styles and prose. Let’s just say that I have never turned away reading someone new and unfamiliar. I recently read some poetry by Sonnet L’Abbe- whom I was drawn to just because I like how her name sounded (at first) and then I found I really liked her work as well! I might also mention Mark Burnhope who has a background as a theology scholar and Thomas W. Shapcott who is an Australian poet- both also wonderful to read.


(SL) Please tell us about your book Coming Full Circle.
It was published in 2011, was on Oprah’s Book Club list and can probably be best described as a collection of poems spanning about of 25 years of just living; this collection includes work I wrote in high school all the way up to a few weeks before it was published. The book is written in the style of Keats’ ‘Negative Capability’ by which Keats explains, “man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts” etc., “without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” [1]; divided into sections corresponding to the 4 seasons. In short there’s something here for everyone- or so I’ve been told by folks who’ve read the book so I’m taking that as a compliment!

(SL) Imagine for moment some future reviewer commenting on your life’s work as a poet. That reviewer sums this up in a single sentence. How would you hope that sentence would read?
This is a tough question and I’m really not sure how to answer this one as I’m really just enjoying and in the midst of what I hope will be a long career in poetry- we’ll see how it turns out in a few years?


[1] Donna Hollenberg, The Women’s Review of Books, 2010.