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…

Demotivational Posters II

A few weeks ago I posted a note about an assignment I gave my students in the on-campus version of the MAET program. They had completed an unit on motivation and had watched the RSA / Daniel Pink video and their task was was to create demotivational posters, (along...

June 18 or June 25, 1178?

In my summer teaching I often start the day with some examples of interesting things that happened that day in history. It is a fun way to start the day, and I seek to find examples that connect with things/issues we are covering in class, often related to technology,...

The making of “Editing is Cool”

I had posted about this really cool video I recently found (see Life is about editing). Behold my surprise when one of the comments on the blog was from none other than Allee Willis (see her wikipedia page here, and personal website here). It was just great to hear...

Exploring visual space with mathematics

Stacy Clause just sent me this very cool link to an article titled Exploring logo designs with Mathematica. In this article, Chris Carlson, of the User Design Group at Mathematia shows how one can mathematically develop variations on commercial logo designs by the...

New ambigram: Nihal

My friend, Hartosh (I had written previously about his mathematical novel here) and his wife Pam, recently had a baby boy. This ambigram is of his name: Nihal Enjoy.

Technology & Literacy, bemoaning the youth of today 🙂

One often hears the criticism that students today don't know how to write... the part of the blame is placed on technology, on the limitations of texting and twittering! For instance, here are two quotes from a book review TXTNG: THE GR8 DB8 by Marcus Merkmann in the...

Chiayi, Chung Cheng & on to Kuosheng

I had been looking forward to the high speed rail journey though I had some concerns about navigating through the train station since most of the signs were in Chinese and Waiway (the graduate student who had come to pick me up from the airport) could not come with me...

Martin Gardner, RIP

Martin Gardner, 1914 - 2010 Martin Gardner died five days ago. Gardner was an influential writer about mathematics and was one of the greatest influences on me (and my friends) as I was growing up. His recreational mathematics column was the main reason I subscribed...

Reading Obama, and getting it right!

I rarely if ever blog about politics - though I follow it avidly. I spend large parts of my day reading the news, keeping up with what is going on. Most of my news gathering happens online (the little TV I watch, usually the Daily Show, also happens online). And it is...


  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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