The book , the first-ever anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry, speaks to us about migrational poetics and poetics of atrocity. Featuring over a hundred poets writing in English, or translated from Tamil or Sinhala, it features poems about love, art, nature, loss and ache.
Not an easy read, the book transports its readers to the 2009 civil war in Sri Lanka, subjugation of minorities, governmental corruption, war crimes, death, and destruction. The hard-hitting collection of poems also talks about the 2004 tsunami and the separatist Tamil Tigers movement in Lanka.
Vidyan Ravinthiran, Seni Seneviratne and Shash Trevett have edited the book. Vidyan, born to Sri Lankan Tamils, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize and the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. Seni, a writer of English and Sri Lankan heritage is currently working on an LGBTQ project with Sheffield Museums. Shash is a Tamil from Sri Lanka who came to the UK to escape the civil war. She is a poet and a translator of Tamil poetry into English.
“Sri Lanka has always been in the shadow of India, and although readers in the UK are becoming more aware of literature from the various Indian languages, there is no real knowledge of the literature coming out of Sri Lanka,” Shash said in an interview to wordswithoutborder.org
“The anthology was Vidyan’s brainchild: he wrote to me in February 2020, asking me to help him connect with contemporary Tamil poets writing in English. We didn’t know each other, although, of course, I had read and loved his two collections and had always wanted our paths to cross,” she said.
Aazhiyaal, Bashana Abeywardane, Alari, Indran Amirthanayagam are some of the poets whose writings have been published in the book.
The poem titled ‘Corpse No.183. Newborn No. 02’, as mentioned in the book, reads as follows:
No vital signs.
Blood covered her like a sari.
Hanging from her womb
by the umbilical cord,
there was a foetus stirring.
I cut the cord.
I shook it, and it started to cry.
I wrote in the register:
Newborn No. 02.
‘Out of Sri Lanka’ stands out as it has both traditional and open forms of poetry like concrete poems, spoken-word provocations, and experimental, post-lyric hybrids of verse and prose.
It also does a fantastic job of being inclusive of varied sections of society, in terms of the selection of poets or representing the varied vantage points.
“At times, our relationship as editors to the poets in this volume transformed beyond the usual duties of the anthologist to include mentorship and editorial input. Sometimes we felt overwhelmed by the importance of the task we had undertaken and the level of work it required, but it was a project close to all our hearts,” Seni said.
“As three writers of Sri Lankan heritage who grew up in different decades and with different life experiences, we committed ourselves to a process of dialogue and debate that was uplifting, challenging, and supportive in equal measure, and through which we all had the opportunity for growth, learning, and change,” she said.
Praising the book, Orla Polten from New Internationalist, said, “Out of Sri Lanka’s post-1948 verse defies Anglo-American marginalization’s of ‘world poetry’ and demands we encounter this rich body of work as poetry without qualifying adjectives.”
The book has been published by Penguin Random House and is available on popular trade portals.