A defiant‘un-poet’ talks about his writing

By Namali Premawardhana, Pic by Saman Kariyawasam

Short-cropped hair, well-matched outfit, sneakers and ear-stud are not the first images that come to mind when one thinks “poet”.

Dinesh Perera, better known as Dee, himself had trouble comprehending, when he had a letter nearly ten years ago, from Not only was he referred to as a “poet”, he was also informed that the first poem he ever wrote was about to be published. “And of course that I could buy [the book] for some ridiculously large amount,” he adds in a mocking tone that fast gets established as characteristic.

Dinesh writes out of pure necessity. “You know those times when everything you do to try and put your life right just backfires on you?” he asks, describing how sometimes after six months to a year of not writing anything he suddenly spurts ten, fifteen poems in one month. Indulgent as the method may seem, and obscure as the result tends to be, it lends Dinesh’s poetry a genuineness of intensity that cannot easily be emulated. Simple and naive as his forms are, the emotion is that much more fresh and real. “I just couldn’t look at a flower and write a poem on it,” he says, mock-dejected.

The political un-correctness, whether calculated or unintended, is refreshing. “I’ve tried fairytale-ish things, but unfortunately, I’d rather not sit and be writing poems when I’m happy. So when I do write, it’s about pain.” He is fully aware and ready to take on the challenges of being “unqualified” to publish. “They can say it’s not poetry, or that it’s substandard, but that doesn’t matter to me as long as it can touch someone.”

The defiance in his approach to the impending (yes, “impending”) release of his first collection of poems in November is contiguous to a rebelliousness Dinesh himself identifies as inherent. He recalls fighting to convince his parents that his life’s calling was creativity, not banking or anything else they might call a “proper job”. Nevertheless, until five or so years ago when he took to advertising, banking it was. “I was always a Christian,” he continues, stressing on the importance of spirituality to his life and poetry, and adding that he is often rebellious in that respect too. But just as often, it seems, he finds himself having no choice but to “trudge to church in [his] shorts and Bata slippers”.

Once in a while, he muses, “you end up in places you don’t want to be”. And while being in these places, literally and metaphorically, Dinesh sometimes found himself “completely out of character”. “The poems were the only thing I could do to get all that anger out of my system. They helped me realize that I had put myself into these situations by choice, even though I didn’t quite choose them.” His work thus expresses, in the most intimate and gut-wrenching fashions, the frustration of being human.

More than anything else, publishing is for Dinesh, “closure” on what he calls one of the “worst” periods of his life. The intensely personal nature of the poems prevented him from “shoving them in everyone’s faces” he says, and until very recently, not many people knew he’d been a ‘Poem Person’ writing poetry all his adult life. But sharing them has opened new avenues for him, not only in terms of allowing other people to know and understand him better, but also vice-versa. One friend in particular “was so excited!” he laughs, that she immediately suggested publishing, “and before I had made up my mind, she was getting a reading going!”

Despite his rebellious streak, Dinesh is humbled by others’ responses to his poetry. “All my friends were saying ‘this is really nice’, but you know how people just say so many nice things? So I really wasn’t sure about it.” But then, Vivimarie Vander Poorten and Sakuntala Sachith-anandan agreed to read alongside him at an informal gathering two weeks ago. “And I was just wowed!” he exclaims, eyes lighting up his smile. Having two Gratien-winning poets’ support was evidently proof enough for Dinesh that as regular and ‘un-poet-like’ as he is, his voice is worth being heard.

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