The gift that keeps on giving, or Why I love the web

by | Sunday, April 24, 2011

I recently received this email:

Dear Mr. Mishra,

I am currently working on a poetry research project for school, and one of the requirements is researching five different poets. While looking for people who wrote palindromic poetry, I found your website and decided to use you in my project. The only problem is that I can’t find much information about you for my research. If you could, please respond to this e-mail with a little information about your history (i.e.-date and place of birth, family relations, etc.) as well as your inspiration for writing your palindromic poems. Thank you for your support!!!!!
Sincerely, Jake

P.S.- I am an eighth grader from Colorado and an aspiring poet.

Now I don’t consider myself a poet in any serious sense of the word (my dabbling in mathematical poetry or palindromic poetry notwithstanding). But it is great feeling when something you create and put out there in the world connects with someone else, someone who you would never otherwise have met or gotten to know. Here is what I wrote back to Jake:

Dear Jake —
Thank you so much for writing to me. I am honored to make it to your list of poets and glad that you are interested in palindromic poetry.

As for my history: I am professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing MI. I am originally from India where I studied engineering and design before coming to the US and getting my PhD. My wife is a graphic designer and I have two kids: my son who is a freshman in high school and my daughter who is in 6th grade.

Ever since I was a kid I have always been interested in puzzles and mathematics and poetry and visual design. That I think led to a habit of playing with words and images… so I do a lot of doodling and sketching (specially when I in meetings). I am fond of asking questions and looking at things around me in new ways. For instance, I love photography, on my Flickr site you will find photos of silly things like finding alphabets in cracks, and faces in everyday things. See this link and this one…


Then there are the videos I make with my kids. For instance see the new year’s card we made recently.

This also led to my creating ambigrams, which are words that are written in a special ways so that they can be read multiple ways. You can find a bunch of such designs on my website.

So I guess, palindromic poetry emerged out this desire or propensity to see the world in weird ways. And the challenge of writing poems that read the same backward and forward was inherently interesting. I particularly enjoyed writing ones that flipped in their meaning when you cross the half-way point. For instance in the poem “Me as I sit” the poem switches from me watching you to you watching me!

Finally, as must have noticed, from the dates, most of these were written a bunch of years ago when I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois. I haven’t written too many recently but the fact that they are on my website leads people to them – and I form all kinds of cool connections – such as the email I just received from you. A year or so ago I heard from someone who uses my poetry to teach poetry to inmates in prison (how cool is that!). You can read about that here.

That’s all for now.. I would love to read any palindromic poetry you may have written, if you are comfortable sharing them with me. Thank you again for your interest in my work. I look forward to hearing from you and let me know if there is anything else you need to know.

take care ~ punya

Note: I got Jake’s (and his parent’s) permission to post our correspondence on this blog under the condition that I not include his email address or other contact information.

Many moons ago I had written about the idea of the web as small pieces loosely connected (read Gandhi, ambigrams, creativity & the power of small pieces loosely joined) that allow people to pursue their passions and share it with the world at large. This is what gives the web its power, and this is also why I am not as comfortable with the barricaded worlds created by Facebook, which would not have allowed someone like Jake to easily find me, (but that is a rant for another day).



A few randomly selected blog posts…

Games & Learning, an analysis

TCRecord has an interesting essay on the role of games and learning, by Alexander, Eaton & Egan, titled: Cracking the code of electronic games: Some lessons for educators. As they say, "This is an analytic article that provides a description of an array of...

A year of blogging

It was exactly a year ago, on the first of January 2008, that I began blogging (see first posting here). When I started I wasn't sure how well this blogging thing would work out. Now 12 months and 376 posts later - I have to say that I have truly enjoyed this. I had...

On What We Lose: Chai, AI and Nostalgia

On What We Lose: Chai, AI and Nostalgia

Technologies give and they take away. This was poignantly highlighted in a recent article by Lisa Lieberman in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled "AI and the Death of Student Writing." The subtitle says it all: "The move away from true hands-on scholarship seems...

Street Use

In blogging Kevin Kelly's piece on "Better than free" (read that post here), I came across another site that he maintains, titled "Street Use," self-described as follows: This site features the ways in which people modify and re-create technology. Herein a collection...

Books on visualization & info-graphics

There was a recent query on the PhD-Design-List regarding sources for designers on how to make good info-graphics and data-visualizations. I am collating the options being put forward by people here, just for the record. Manuel Lima's work  The book: Visual...

Wordle, McCain v.s. Obama

As I was playing with Wordle (see previous postings here and here) I realized that it could be used for political analysis. So here are John McCain and Barack Obama's acceptance speeches as a word-map. Can you without, my telling you so, figure out which is which? A...

Google ranking, a self defeating approach

Matt Koehler has an interesting post (Keeping track of the Koehlers) about his attempts to rise in Google's rankings for searches on his last name. In the last few months he seems to have had some success judging that he has moved from page 25 to somewhere in the 3-4...

Ambigrams on the web

Many years ago I got bitten by the Ambigram bug and before I knew it I had created hundreds! This was of course long before Dan Brown and Angels and Demons made ambigrams wildly popular. It has been fun to see what was once a fringe activity take on a wider...

Representing the election

How does one best represent all the voting information that we now collect as a part of the electoral process? Here are a few websites that really stood out for me. Send me any more that you have and I can add them to the list. The first is a series of cartograms...


  1. Punya Mishra

    Gaurav, that is cool… most unexpected and unasked for and hence twice the fun (actually since it is almost palindromic, it would be 3.5 times the fun). ~ punya



  1. Who wrote this poem? | Punya Mishra's Web - […] Once in a while someone finds them and writes to me (a couple of interesting stories here and here).…
  2. Palindromic poetry: Falling Snow | Punya Mishra's Web - [...] The gift that keeps on giving, or Why I love the web [...]

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