By Roshenka de Mel
The PenDrive poetry competition was launched at Park Street Mews last week in an effort to tap into the potential of Sri Lanka’s new and upcoming writers. The event commenced with a series of talks, interviews and poetry recitations that brought together Sri Lanka’s literary and artistic elite from all generations. The evening allowed all participants to share their work, tell their stories and exchange comments on Sri Lanka’s literary development.
Host Kumar de Silva began the event by interviewing filmmaker Chandran Rutnam and discussing the script he wrote for ‘A Common Man’ starring Oscar winning actor Ben Kingsley. The entire production was filmed under a month and allowed for well renowned Hollywood actor to work in collaboration with a Sri Lankan director. Fathima Cader then spoke to Herman Gooneratne, author of the hit ‘Suicide Club’ who in his book tells the story of life on the plantations during Sri Lanka’s colonial era. A poetry jam session was then conducted by Vihanga Perera, Dhanuka Bandara and Marlon Ariyasinghe titled ‘safety removal of hardware.’ Each poet recited a few pieces and shared their thoughts and comments on the different challenges that poets face in Sri Lanka.
Marlon Ariyasinghe, a newly published poet delivered his poetry with force and intensity. In the commentary he provided, Ariyasinghe stated “Sri Lankan publishers are reluctant to publish poetry because they feel it won’t sell. There are also many regulations set in place to monitor content and many legal proceedings have to be taken into consideration.”
Dhanuka Bandara who was both dynamic in his delivery and blatantly controversial with his content pointed out “Politically charged poets in Sri Lanka sacrifice stylization too often. They neglect the use of traditional poetry devices and focus only on expressing a political message. If they paid attention to form and style then they could potentially deliver a more forceful message.”
Vihanga Perera read from his collection of poems titled ‘Busted Intellectual’ and demonstrated captivating wit and style in his work. Perera in addressing the current problems facing Sri Lankan poets observed, “Sri Lankan poets need to get out and experience more things, they have to experiment with new experiences and alternative voices and they have to figure out how to express them. Our reading lists comprise of Enid Blyton at age 12 and Jane Austin at age 16. We need more variety and experimentation. Our publishing industry is also at its infantile stages, there are few publications that take on poets and there needs to be a greater symbiosis between publications and poets, we need more publishers who are willing to go out there and look for poets.”
The Editor of Lakbima News, Rajpal Abenayake in his address to the audience stated ‘There are a lot of untouched gems in Sri Lanka and we hope this PenDrive poetry competition will shine some light on them.’ He was followed by Harpo Gunaratne who expressed his delight in hosting such an event at Park Street Mews and emphasized that the venue has always associated itself with art, film and literature projects in Sri Lanka.
The launch ended with Abenayake moderating a discussion with 2010 Gratian award winner, Shakunthala Sachithanandan who recited works from her book of poetry entitled ‘On the street and other revelations.’ The difference in the style and delivery of poems between Sachithanandan and younger poets Ariyasinghe, Perera and Bandara was interesting. Different but equally captivating and engaging in the delivery of their poems, Saachichanandan provided a recitation of more subtle yet simultaneously poignant pieces whereas the younger poets delivered bold and more blatant poems with a fiery zest. Both styles were an entertaining contrast in their own right and all poets at the launch expressed themselves based on a varied mix of personal experiences, likes, dislikes, obsessions and ideas that fascinated them. The entire night’s proceedings set the stage well for the PenDrive poetry competition, which is to commence in the beginning of July.
– Pix by Kithsiri de Mel