This is written as a silence-breaker, as I have in a while not contributed to this space I have been maintaining. These are a few observations on three collections of poetry I have had the opportunity of reading in the past few months: Dilantha Gunawardana’s Kite Dreams (2016), Vivimarie Vanderpoorten’s Borrowed Dust (2017) and Jayatissa K. Liyanage’s Shadows (2017).
Dilantha Gunawardana’s collection of about 50 poems, Kite Dreams, represents less than the tip of the iceberg Dilantha is as a person and as a tireless writer. Of his wider corpus, what he publishes in his poetry blog testifies to a rigorous poetic mind at work, with a turn out rate which, to be put mildly, is feverish. In fact, Dilantha’s better work are found in the blog; and that may purely be a case of selection, as the act of anthologizing does not necessarily let you shortlist the best. He writes with flair and energy, and he seems to be in love with the very idea of lyrical richness and the aesthetic of the articulated word. Kite Dreams has its chief weakness in its selection; and this is best gauged when you compare the line up with some of the poems that come in Dilantha’s blogs. This, too, is a shortage that can be fixed when he publishes again. In any case, the best strength of Sarasavi, Dilantha’s publisher, is not its imagination.
Dilantha seems to write partly as an exercise in the light of sublimation: a necessary transformation of force and energy. In this way, his writing seems to connect intimately with his day-to-day volition, and this is easily perceived through his corpus which, in its diversity, range and scope, is akin to a mini log of Dilantha, the person. His updated work can be found here, and I share this link as I encourage the reader to juxtapose this with his published work before forming any judgment: Dilantha’s Poetry Blog
Interestingly, Dilantha comes with a training as a Botanist; and for him, poetry is an adventure on which he embarked much later is life. As hinted earlier, partly, for him the poetic exercise is a therapy, while it is also a means of creatively transforming energy through meaningful communication. His is not an ambitious or contrived effort to make political statements or politically correct measurements that will eventually win you a seat in a panel discussing gender or violence in prudish, pretentious tones; but, an expression for the sake of articulation.
In that way, Jayathissa Liyanage’s Shadows – a collection Jayathissa has put together, collecting from his work over the past twelve years or so – forms a close link with Dilantha’s work. Jayathissa himself ventured into composition in English later in his life, and by admission, “not even dreamed of composing in English” until he had stumbled on it by chance. Jayathissa – again – comes from a Science / agriculture studies background; and writes in his retirement as a means of seeking contentment. He is also a prolific composer in Sinhala, and recently launched a series of work which he claims will be of benefit “for [his] grand children” if they so wonder about the feats of their grand father, as a child and youth. Jayathissa’s writing has the unmistakable stamp of biography, and is often marked by a psychological investigation of one’s self and one’s past from the vantage point of a mature present.
Taking up poetry late, perhaps, has left what may be called “certain restrictions” in Jayathissa’s style and craft. For example, his over-dependence on conventional, classical structure, and the frequenting of heavy phraseology at times makes his poetry stiff in sections. Yet, his ambitionlessness, and the lack of pretense as a writer – teamed with the joy and happiness he (claims to) seek(s) through composition – are refreshing and rewarding in an age where writers often write with awards and cash prizes in mind.
Vivimarie Vanderpoorten’s Borrowed Dust is the third of the collections I wish to draw briefly on; and, too, with the mind that that collection should be spoken of at length in a separate essay. If her three collections since 2007 – nothing prepares you, Stitch your Eyelids Shut and Borrowed Dust – are an indicator, Vivimarie is one of those writers who begins with a climax and slides down, earth-bound. nothing prepares you, to date, remains her best achievement; and in many ways, Borrowed Dust constitutes a distant echo of the same. The style and temperament Vivimarie showcased with her debut are palpable in sudden revelations in some of the poems cast in this, her “return” to the literary mainstream. However, the back blurb, with various lines of praise of Vivimarie based on her past work, is in bad taste for a writer of her stature. Once again, her publisher – Sarasavi – the same as Dilantha’s ought to rethink these citations, as they, at some level, reflect on the writer’s temperament.
After certain criticisms that were meted out at her Stitch Your Eyelids Shut (2012), Vivimarie is said to have taken time off to “rework” her style, and the intermittent five years, at a glance, have brought her closer to her nothing prepares you days. Disconnection and dislocation in experience heavily feature in the corpus, with memorable passages from family violence to scars from school life. The poem she wrote in the height of the FUTA strike in 2012, dedicated to the memory of two student leaders whose deaths are wrapped with the suspicion of having been carried out by the state militia, too, is featured in this collection. In thematic terms, this singular poem stands apart from the rest, and somewhat naked too. However, from the perspective of Sri Lankan poetry, a third volume by a student of the craft is a welcome moment. More of these, in another substantive entry.