ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 13, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 46

Poetry the clear winner

Shortlist for the 2008 Gratiaen Prize

By Smriti Daniel

They always announce the names in alphabetical order, but the shortlist for the 2008 Gratiaen Prize - made up entirely as it was of poets - produced little else that was expected.

Fortunately, it was a fine night for poetry. As thunder rumbled loud and long outside, the audience, leaning forward in their seats, listened intently to five unique voices, interrupting only with the occasional chuckle, a quiet sigh, and spontaneous applause.

“As a writer myself, I feel that through writing we begin to understand our fears, our hopes and our beliefs,” said Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, Chair of a panel of judges that included Dr. Maithree Wickremesinghe and Dr. Rama Mani. In the first speech of that night, Dr. Tammita-Delgoda expressed his belief that English writing in this country remains vibrant and vigorous. Certainly, the number of entries this year – 56 – is amongst the highest in the Prize’s history.

Of as much interest was the diversity of styles and subjects among the set of entries - which included short stories, novels, poems, plays, biographies and even musical dramas. It is obvious, that the Gratiaen’s joyful embracing of dramatically different literary forms is far from easy on the judges.

Detailing their criteria, Dr. Wickremesinghe emphasized the impact of a work of literature on its reader, a writer’s mastery of his or her craft in terms of creative expression, use of language and consistency, along with the literary insight each work revealed.

On Saturday, April 26, a winner will be announced. However, in the meantime, there is space to savour, celebrate and honour the outpouring of prose and poetry that the Gratiaen is witness to every year.

As an absent Dr. Rama Mani said (in a speech read by Dr. Tammita-Delgoda) - “ I marvel in Sri Lanka at how you turn inexorably today - as you have through decades of conflict and centuries of history - to prose and poetry, to music and theatre, to every form of creative expression. I marvel at how you unfailingly find words and notes and gestures that capture the ethos of your unique time and space; that transmute and transcend the violence of your generation.”

Chamali remembers first writing poetry as an eight-year-old. Today, as the Executive Assistant to the Chairman, Bank of Ceylon, she still finds herself frequently inspired to put pen to paper. Majoring from Royal Holloway, University of London with a Combined Honours in Mathematics, Economics and Management, she also has a Master’s in Economics from University College, London.

Her love of dance and movement, in both traditional forms such as Kandyan and more recently in International Style Latin American, find some expression in her work. She has contributed articles to several publications both local and foreign, over the years.

Recently, her translation from Sinhala to English of “Apata Yanna Tenek Ne” or “The Stranded” a modern novel on social impacts of urbanisation in the South of Sri Lanka was accepted for publication.

Tears and a black eye on Saturday morning;
An eternity of forgotten tenderness and promises;
You have tread many times on my strength
and left my pride shattered in the corner;
Closed doors, heated voices;
Then the crystal flying;
Only this ring on my finger
to remind me
what should have been;
You wound me with your words and otherwise;
Language fails to make connections;
Suddenly a smile becomes an achievement;
Your sweat, your breath and your eyes alight in distaste;
Your force, your pretexts and unwelcome exploitation of my being;
All these wreck me;
What holiness remains then in this union?
In me there is a pacific realization;
Situations must indeed be changed;
Tossing in my sleep, I hear one word
in a battered and broken dream;

Among other things, Malinda has worked as a journalist, and a copywriter, and is now attached to the Government Information Department.

He has published one collection of poetry, 'Epistles: 1984-1996', and has also translated Martin Wickramasinghe's 'Upan Da Sita' and Simon Nawagaththegama's 'Sansaraaranyaye Dadayakkaraya' (yet to be published). He is an avid chess player, and is currently the Assistant Secretary of the Chess Federation.

Other orbits beckon, i am sure,
other constellations you want to inhabit,
other stories to listen to,
futures to reflect on;
this is how people leave
and are left
this is how and why doors are shut,
and in these transformations and travels
sweet lies and known inevitables
those who came before, are absented,
this is true.


Vivimarie VanderPoorten teaches English language, literature and linguistics at the Open University of Sri Lanka. Her first collection of poems ‘nothing prepares you’ was published in February, 2007. Her poetry has appeared in Channels, Nethra, Options, Pravada (now Polity) and has been performed in several locations including the British Council, Colombo and Downing College, Cambridge. Recently, her poetry has appeared in Spanish translation in the Mexican journal Mexico Papeles de la Mancuspia.

Vivimarie studied English and Economics at the University of Kelaniya and completed her Master’s in applied linguistics at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland. She is currently a Ph.D student at the same university, researching in the area of bilingual education and second language acquisition.

Desire is a moth
drawn to the flame
we are told:
it stutters stupidly

then, wings singed,
time-tested truth
I can’t help but wonder
Does the flame
bear no blame
For the ruin
of gauzy wings?


This is the second time that Ramya has made the Gratiaen shortlist, the last time being in 1998 for her manuscript of poetry titled “Forgetting Memories”.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in Literature from Richmond College, London and a Master of Arts degree in Comparative Literature from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Ramya won the State Literary Award for Poetry in 1993 and was a joint-winner of the English Writers’ Cooperative’s Short Story and Poetry Competition (poetry category) in 1997.

Her most recent publication is a book on the tsunami; Rhythm of the Sea. She is currently writing a book on Trinity College, Kandy.

At two in the afternoon, in a white-washed clinic,
the oncologist asked for a private word with the wife.
“The prognosis is not good,” he said kindly.
He had the right tone of voice that came from
the repetition of a single phrase over the lifetime of a profession.
The wife went outside and discussed the train schedule with her dead husband.
On the way home, the council flats sped past them
and the bridge came and went.
Autumn leaves flew off the tracks and settled down again.
She told him they had dinner waiting. There were fish fingers in the oven.
The husband, knowing, smiled.
And said, next summer, they would go to Greece.


'Like Myth and Mother' is a collection of poetry and prose that spans a 20 -year period of writing. It also takes up issues of post-coloniality, but always from the rooted location within Sri Lanka and within a consciousness of race, class and gender. Sumathy is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Peradeniya, where she teaches theory, theatre, film theory and some literature, mainly early modern English literature.

As an accomplished actress, playwright and director, Sumathy has an extensive background in theatre, and has performed on both national and international stages. Recently, she has also moved into film making.

Among other things, she is currently involved in translating Shoba Shakthi’s ‘mm’ – a path breaking novel about the rise and collapse of Tamil nationalism. Sumathy received the 2001 Gratiaen Award (Co-winner) for ‘In the Shadow of the Gun / The Wicked Witch’

when he said m, i said, hmmmm,
immm, as in 'a little', wits we have not
for medicine even,
and also, as in nihilism, the tamil-way, yes,
then of course, thaam, theem and thom,
as in thesam and thamil, thaam and tham,
we the tamils, a nation, sit tight,
talking through the night,
in mumbling murmurs, of mmm
and mmm, dreaming of
all, dreams all
in ell_am in eelam,
am in
and asylum, talking,
mmmmmm, mmmmmm, hmmmm and
immmmmm, of 'em,
ahem, and hee and haw.

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