A budding poet, are you? Then here is how you hone your skills and have fun all at the same time. Nithya Sivashankar meets the composers of www.blackriverpoets.com who love to rhyme

“I am Neha, I steal spoons

I steal spoons from the kitchen and store them in my room”

“I am Harish, I lose spoons.

I lose ‘em from my kitchen,I lose ‘em from my rooms.”

It was these spoons that led to the birth of Black River Poets, a site exclusively for poetry lovers. Harish Shankaran, one of its co-founders, came across the first few lines of the poem, on his cousin's friend's blog in 2008.

On an impulse he decided to respond to it. “Before we knew it, we were exchanging verses on a daily basis. So, I compiled whole thing and put it up on my own blog www.oxygenflow.net.” This poetry exchange fetched him quite a following. And that set Harish thinking. The result was a platform for poets.

So the Black River Poets (www.blackriverpoets.com) came about in December 2010. Along with Mumbai-based Harish is his Delhi-based co-founder Sri Prasanna. “I was tinkering about with the concept of ‘poetry duels', and was on the lookout for a developer, who could turn this fuzzy idea into something tangible. I knew Prasanna, since we once worked together. I met him and bounced the idea off him,” says Harish, a product manager, by profession.

Prasanna who is a programmer found the idea challenging. The website however suggests that Prasanna got involved in the project because Harish “conned him into believing that he'd get a geeky girlfriend by virtue of this site!”

The website, unlike any other platforms available for poetry-sharing, banks on the concept of ‘poetry duels'. Harish and Prasanna claim that the Black River Poets are all about collaborative poetry. As the site clearly points out, a user can start a duel, join a duel or silently lurk around watching others duel. A duel can be started by simply composing the first few lines of a poem and setting a time limit for the challenge. By using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, one can invite challengers to take the duel forward.

Battle of wits

After the user chooses a suitable challenger, the two of them can continue constructing the poem. The poets exchange verses and the battle lasts until one of them fails to submit a verse within the stipulated time period. People who bear witness to these duels get to award quills to their favourite stanzas. Based on the number of quills the challengers earn, a winner is declared. For those poets aspiring to write in regional languages, fret not. Harish credits Prasanna for coming up with an add-on for language support, so that poetry can happen in multiple languages.

Prasanna says that the idea was always to try and do something different. “(We wanted to) create a unique space. Go experimental. All we did was to infuse a new angle to the way poetry happens,” says Prasanna, who thinks coding is poetry too. When asked about the response to this project, Harish says that they undertook the project knowing that the audience for such a website would be niche. “But the intent was definitely to make poetry a bit more fun and mainstream. These are still early times. We obviously have a lot more readers than poets or contributors,” he adds. Prasanna says that in terms of statistics, the website gets about 100 odd visits a day. “We are still learning from our existing data and bettering the site in terms of functionalities and flows.”

The duo aspires to bring in “small yet effective changes” on the website. Harish remarks, “One of the coolest add-ons that we are really excited about is a ‘rhyme suggestion' widget, that when enabled, will give the poets words that rhyme with any of those they have currently written. We hope to release it soon.”