New trends in poetry

Print edition : April 24, 1999

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

THE origins of Sri Lankan Tamil poetry can be traced as far back as the Sangam period, which speaks of a Sri Lankan Tamil poet called Eelattu Poothanthevanar. But in the strict sense, modern poetry in Sri Lanka begins only in the 1940s with the emergence of marumalarchi (renaissance) writers such as Mahakavi, A. Kandasamy and Varadar. The two anthologies published in the 1980s, Pathinoru Eelattu Kavignargal (Eleven Sri Lankan Poets) and Maranathul Valvom, clearly show the trends in modern Sri Lankan Tamil poetry since the time it sprouted in the 1940s up to the early part of the 1980s. But with the dawn of the 1990s, Sri Lankan Tamil poetry begins to show some signs of new development. The younger poets who have been bathed in the bloodstained waters of Eelam War II and III have given an impetus and new dimensions to Tamil poetry.

In order to have a clear view of these trends in Sri Lankan Tamil poetry, we must see these poets as poets belonging to six generations on the basis of the time they started writing. To the first generation belongs Mahakavi, who started writing in the 1940s. Murugaiyan and Neelavanan, who began writing in the early 1950s, belong to the second generation. Mu. Ponnambalam, M.A. Nuhman, Shanmugam Sivalingam and Tha. Ramalingam, who began writing in the 1960s, form the third generation. The Marxist-oriented poets such as Sivasegaram, Jesurajah and Pushparajah come to the forefront in the 1970s and form the fourth generation. Jeyapalan, Cheran, S. Vilvaratnam, Elaval, Vijayendran and Sabesan belong to the fifth generation. The rest of the younger poets, who form the sixth generation, are Solaikkili, Vasuthevan, Jabaar, Nilanthan, Aswagosh, Jeyasankar, Atma, Rashmy, Elaiya Abdulla and Ahilan. While taking into account the exile poets such as Natchathiran Sevvinthiyan, K.P. Aravinthan, Balaganesh, S.P. Kaneshan, Siththivinayagam, Govarthanan, A. Kandasamy and Chakravarthi, Vanni poets who live outside the army-controlled areas in Sri Lanka have also to be taken note of. Even though it remains a closed area owing to various military operations and bombardment, literary activity is still in progress in the Vanni region. An anthology of poems (Kaalam Ezhuthum Varikal - The Lines that Time Writes) which was published in the early part of the 1990s speaks of Vanni's valour; and the poets who contribute to this valour are Kasianandan, Puthuvai Rathnathurai, S. Karunakaran, Maithili Arulaiya, Eyalvanan, Major Bharathy, Captain Kasthuri, M. Mylan, S. Umajibran, Elanthiraiyan, Chandra Bose, Suthakar, P. Thayalan, Saththurukkan, Thuzhi, Akila, Suthamathi and Uthayaledchumy.

Sri Lankan Tamil poetry proper starts only with Mahakavi. Until then it remained a reproduction of what was written in Tamil Nadu. Mahakavi, being a realist of the first order, makes use of the spoken language of the Jaffna person and makes the poetry stand firm on its own soil, cutting off the unwanted link with Tamil Nadu. His great work Oru Satharana Manithan Sarithiram (History of an Ordinary Man) will, no doubt, stand the test of time. Although Murugaiyan and the late Sillaiyoor Selvarajan are also considered major poets of the 1950s, they are not as prolific as Mahakavi. They can be taken as poets who are good at employing satire, sarcasm and parody in their work.

Neelavanan, on the other hand, stands apart from his contemporaries by blending both realism and a metaphysical touch in his works. His poems reflect flashes of his spiritual inquiry.

Ponnambalam, Nuhman, Shanmugam Sivalingam, Jesurajah, Sivasegaram and Pushparajah are the poets of the 1960s and 1970s. Except for Ponnambalam, the others are Marxist-oriented. What is fascinating is that they give a metaphysical touch to their poems of "socialist realism", which until then remained simply a barren juxtaposition of empty slogans. Ponnambalam greatly differs from these with his spiritual philosophy and the experiments he does in chaining not only the old verse forms but also the modern ones.

While the older poets remain traditionalists as far as form is concerned, the younger poets are bent on breaking it to free themselves from the shackles of traditional forms. Although Ponnambalam, Shanmugam Sivalingam and Tha. Ramalingam belong to the older group, it is they who take the initiative to break the old verse forms. Ramalingam's two collections of poems (Puthumaikkavithaigal and Kanikkai) can be taken as a breakthrough in this direction.

With the publication of Cheran's Erandavathu Sooriya Uthayam, Jeyapalan's Sooriyanodu Pesuthal, Vilvaratnam's Ahankalum Mugangalum and Solaikkili's Eddavathu Naragam, the traditionalists who had been dominating Sri Lankan Tamil poetry with their old verse forms were left far behind and the free verse form which had been ridiculed by traditionalists (specially by Murugaiyan) as broken verse has come to stay as a new force.

The poets of the 1990s belong to the sixth and the present generation who are very articulate and dynamic in the sense that they speak of the experiences that are thrust on them. While Solaikkili camouflages these experiences in his poetic allegories, others take these as an inquiry into the self of the Tamil-speaking society as a whole. This results in new poems filled with new kind of "image philosophy".

The philosophy of the late M. Thalayasingham is gaining ground in the Sri Lankan Tamil literary field. Thalayasingam speaks about a new literature and art which are going to destroy all the present art and literary forms and this destruction would eventually lead to every piece of work being seen as art.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×