Title: Spark

Authors: Kandy Writers’ Club

The springs of life are such They erupt into turgid channels Of unchecked pain…

Thus sings the narrative voice in Kamala Wijeratne’s poem, The Iridescent Line, whose declared intention is to remember and celebrate the life of Sri Lanka’s celebrated film icon, the late Lester James Peries. Yet, like many texts, the unintended thought escapes the intention’s barbed wire and offers multiple meanings: in this case a means of ‘reading’ this book. Spark is a slim collection of prose and poetry from a group of budding writers from Kandy, who call themselves Kandy Writers’ Club. It is a site where ‘springs of life’ erupt into narratives that encapsulate life-leaning thematics such as pain, loss, loneliness and betrayal. The self-published unpretentious book offers variegated textual experiences in the literary genres of the poem and the short story.

The Poetry

Perhaps, one thread that binds the featured poems of Sparks is their contemplative nature—the writers themselves are found ruminating and deliberating life-bound issues that have offered them the inspiration to create. Take the poem Justice and Divinity by Shiromi Upulaneththa. The powerful motif of a ‘log’ which represents a homeless person sleeping on the pavement offers the writer a deep reflective journey into the human condition. The sounds of destitution and vulnerability-- “I could hear a cough…a rough cough” -- awakens the heart of the narrator who notices how a “ragged quilt” gains movement as “she…slowly put her head out.” This unmotivated combination of sound (cough) and vision (quilt) lends itself to a motivated, yet disproportionate poetic blending of a Kovil, Police Station and a Pastry Shop. It is the presence of these uneven images that seemingly bother the conscience of the poet, whose fervent attempts to bind them into a meaningful purpose falters—they remain as separate entities as the title of the poem suggests.

Both Udumbara Udugama and Kumari Weerasooriya evoke and experiment with nature in their poems Nature’s Dower and Duality. Udugama is content to take a walk in the garden and dissolve her ‘heart and soul’ experience to encapsulate the greater world. The events of nature in the garden are not extraordinary, though Udugama’s narrator finds that they are. “Butterflies…on the petals swing” and the “suspended…gold fish… gambolling in the pond” sustain the narrator’s interest before the harsh sunlight sends the narrator home—a stark reminder of nature’s oppositions. If Udugama ended her poem on a contrasting note, Weerasooriya picks the thread from there onwards in her poem Duality, which is an exposition of the “ferocious” as well as “peace-loving” nature of a body of water. “Once the river runs down ferociously…” notes the narrator and follows this ferocious being, not to its logical end, but to an illogical one: “Next movement it moves slowly…” The conflicting moods of the river diffuse all meaning of life for the narrator and offer a more inclusive image of nature.

Jayalath Basnagoda undertakes a deep contemplation of his own craft as a poet in Meditation and Poet, whereby the restlessness of the poetic experience seems to confuse the narrator: “The direction and purpose I can’t recall.” Yet, beneath this agitation, a deep poetic verse is being formed as “Waves of thought roll and embrace.” In the end, the narrator watches in awe as the poetic thought takes shape in the “deep sea” of the mind. Suddenly the “boat of oblivion” and lack of “direction and purpose” make sense as these outlandish and eccentric qualities create a “poetic form.”

Shamila Misfar’s Nature in Love is a lyrical verse set in another land whereby the “ravishing hugs” exchanged between the sea and the land and gentle embraces between the horizon and the clouds “with a number of promises” sets off an unexpected emotion in the observer—loneliness. The teardrop of the narrator seemingly matches, and even mocks the nature’s motifs, owing to its richness in emotions and passionate intensity.

The Short Stories

The short stories in the book explore the notions of loss and dealing with loss using protagonists from all walks of life and even ethnicities.

Mayuri Sooriyampola’s short story Life Goes On is a deep response to the transient nature of life. The three characters Gimhani, Sidath and Shanilka had everything in life going for them until a recklessly driven lorry brings on near-death, injury and illness. The story is a reflection on the means by which people face tragic circumstances in their lives. Thus, we find Shanilka disappearing from the space of fiction, unable to deal with injured Gimhani and his own fears and insecurities related to her. Sidath is willing to embrace Gimhani and her physical and psychological, yet is forced to let go of those intentions as the main female protagonist decides to renounce her worldly life. Thus, “he turned back and started walking, along the gravel path to his vehicle.” This story is perhaps a reminder to how we tend to walk away from a transcendental option life towards our automobile, or how we keep putting off deep inner-growth in order to live a worldly life.

Anula Peramune’s Who is to be Blamed…is a powerful critique of the political culture of Sri Lanka as well as abuse of power in the state sector. Suvimali, a newly appointed teacher in a rural school, is forced to give in to the orders of her impulsive politically-manipulative father who forces her to avoid a school function. This absence earns her the ire of the clinical and efficient school principal, forcing her father to seek the intervention of the powers that be. Suvimali’s exposure to the subtle workings of power and prestige underneath the surface social fabric comes as a shock to her forcing her to seek refuge in her own deep inner resources. “Suddenly, Suvimali woke up from her reverie when she heard her father’s voice,” is an all-embracing statement that sums up Suvimali’s exposure to the world of political intrigue and cunning.

In The War Baby by Apoorva Ekanayake, we have a fictitious rendering of an event which fosters deep bonding between humans despite their social and ethnic differences. Angitha, a victim of the civil conflict, strikes a warm bond with Denuwara (a beautiful pun combining two geographic locations) whose affection and attention offers her an emotional way out of her blindness. “What’s the use of a surprise to a blind person?” Angitha wonders as she overgrows her lacks and attempts to study music. Denuwara succumbs to an incurable illness and his eyes allow a new lease of life to Angitha: “Everything looked so different to her new pair of eyes.” If seeing is believing for her, this act of seeing through a pair of eyes from a southerner becomes a powerful metaphor for ethnic harmony. “This is what he wanted to see,” Denuwara’s father tells Angitha, a powerful testament to the notion of human bonding transcending the differences.

Spark, as the title suggests is the beginning of a long journey in creative writing for the authors. Like any beginner to the genres of poetry and short story, the writers overstate the known, struggle to attain precision in the ordering prose passages and find the economy of expression in the poetic diction. Editing requires much harder work. Yet, this is a beginning only. And such beginnings need to be evaluated with sensitivity for a start—the purpose of this review.

Perhaps, the seasoned poet and the motivator of this creative writing project, Kamala Wijeratne’s poem for Lester James Peries, is a fitting end to this review. “I never met you face to face…all I had was a distant picture of your celebrations…”It is the image of the ‘picture’ that percolates the poetry and prose in Spark sparking an ambiguity, melancholy and suddenly the rare satisfaction of ‘seeing’ the text of a writer opening her imagination unto the fields and to the sky.

Reviewed by Lal Medawattegedara

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