Link – http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2016/05/24/business/82504
Questions for Dr Dilantha Gunawardana
You are a dual citizen of Australia and Sri Lanka. Where do you like to spend time most?
I spend most of my time in Sri Lanka. I lived in Australia for 9 years where I finished my Honors degree and Ph.D. in the life sciences. I will always remember my time in Australia fondly, as a time that made me grow, both as a professional and as an individual.
My life is centered on Colombo and I tend to go out a lot to dinner, coffee and pub quizzes. However that said, after I got married, my wife (Michelle) and I have one night a week (date night) where we go out to Colombo and on other days we stay in.
Here is one of my poems on Colombo.
Dull noise of the sleeping wind
On crowded corners
Too light in conversation
Too heavy in footsteps
To be a village square
As vendors shout the commoner’s fee
A few hundred rupees that can hold
Gold-plated jewellery and imported silk alike
Where sarees and sarongs unite ethnic tones
And color of skin is erased by sun’s glare
A place of incarnate merchant dreams
As collectors with deep pockets
Practice the trade of soft margins
And whole-sale counts
Where intersections littered with busy tuk-tuks
Are crossed by pedestrians under panoramic umbrellas
A soil where colonialism and commercialism
As draped roofs and wooden edifices
Hide in the shadow of brick bastions
A city with two bipolar identities
Indulgent colonial fort
And industrious bazaar.
You mostly write about love. But don’t you think love is a hackneyed subject in poetry?
We live in times where love is devalued and her merits taken for granted. Love used to be ushered in through a simple question/proposal, followed by courtship, when the currency of the heart multiplies leading to the plunge to an eternity. I treasure that notion of love. Still love is not a fairy tale but will always be the magnum opus, at least to me. These are two poems that I wrote recently on love – the near-perfection and the imperfection.
From the puritan to the erotic
Kiss to the bliss
And stamped by adhesives
– Palms, shoulders and lips –
Even held and rocked like a cradle
And scribbled on some post-it notes
Sticky till everlast
And that necessity
Which programs to a compulsion
Yields fiber that is drift-proof
Blind and gullible
And lithifies to
Eloped just like
A runaway bride or a string-less kite
To confiscate one folly
And the moon peeled away
Abandoning an obese circle
As she became
A slender crescent
And just like that
The heart wallowed
To a fallow period
Which times are the best for your muse?
Bad times, when you don’t have the luxury of a conversation to express or a shoulder to anchor. Then the poems always start to rise like the tide or the surf dwarfing everything else, even the bad times. There is a strong sense of satisfaction that comes from scribbling some verses and putting it on a blog. It can be therapeutic and analgesic. When you have written a decent poem, you sometimes know it from the inner workings of the mind, although it is rightfully open to judgement and scrutiny. I don’t always depend on popular approval but I usually get about 5-15 likes for most poems and I have 279 followers of my blog. That I feel gives me enough consolidation that my poetry is appreciated by at least a few people.
What do you enjoy most: writing or reading?
I enjoy writing more. I’m an accidental poet whose knowledge of English was cultivated before 16 (at a very young age) when I used to read a lot – Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Three Investigators, Agatha Christie etc……I have read a few books of late – George Orwell comes to mind here. I also read Sri Lankan poets such as Vihanga Perera, Malinda Seniviratne and Vivi-marie Van Der Poorten and I also read poems from the Academy of Poets, USA, mostly from contemporary poets. I’m very American in my ethos and manner and love the style of poetry that flows from the nib of American poets.
Since I have experienced life from three countries – Sri Lanka, Australia and the Philippines, I have a smorgasbord of poetic topics to write about, of life seen from different perspectives. So writing is my first love and reading comes second.
Why do you think poetry is devalued over its fellow genres such as novel?
Poetry’s focus is the tapestry of words and not necessarily the storyline, although poetry can be a powerful medium to beautify the ambient. We live in a world where the rule of the thumb is that stories sell. Poetry takes you on a short journey to a wonderful destination, where the last verse captures a unique perspective or arrangement that concludes a poem. A novel is more a long-term investment for the writer and the beholder and will weave a story that will culminate at some point, often at the end. Poetry is not necessarily story-telling, although bards like Shakespeare, Elliot etc, have written epic narrative poems and Sinhala “kavi” too tell stories of rural lives and livelihoods.
What are your favourite books, and why?
1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell. He showed that how power could be misused (and misguided) when unworthy people come to the helm of power. We live in a world, where technology is creeping into homes and lives of everyday people. Technology is a beautiful thing, just a look at a poetry or prose blog, and you can see for yourself. Still that said, technology, should never erase sacraments like privacy, which is a mandatory human right. I guess you can say that George Orwell showed clearly, the world we will inherit one day.
I also have read some Nicholas Sparks books in my early 30s and he always delivers a beautiful version of love with a twist.
Who are your favourite authors, and why?
I don’t have any favorite authors and I haven’t read a lot of books to qualify to name a favorite author. I enjoyed Tom Brown’s School Days and David Copperfield – I guess you can call them classics. I like Little Women too, and Jo’s character.
Do you think depression is a compulsory emotion for a poet?
Depression the clinical type is not a requirement for a poet. Still I would call poetry Prozac for a poet. Depression or the “blues” is a fundamental emotion that everyone goes through, at some point in their lives. Blues gave rise to a few music genres and similarly the melancholy of poets can give rise to many creative compositions and such creative endeavors have their way of lifting individuals, communities and even minorities and the marginalized.
Furthermore, a poet needs to be bipolar to beat writer’s block. Words don’t churn everyday inside the mind, and those days you need to let go until you find the more manic stages where you feel the words rising and taking over your existence.