Sensuality unlimited: Muthu seeks life after love

By Renton de Alwis

When ‘Uncle Renton’ casually told Muthu Padmakumara that he liked most of her poetic work in ‘Life after Love’, she challenged me to critique them. I did tell her then, that I would call what I write, ‘A lament of an older man for expressions of youthful sensuality’. I then read each of her poems once again and ended up calling my critique of her work ‘Sensuality Unlimited’.

Although I once dabbled in writing poetry, I never stayed the course. That makes me not even a half-baked poet, let alone a critique. I am also aware that trying to critique a youthful poetess in a somewhat helpful way is perhaps like walking blindfolded into a minefield. Now that I have established my credentials, let me take you on a limited journey into Muthu’s sensual minefield that is, ‘Life after Love’.

If, as Muthu claimed in a newspaper interview, this work is the result of her lending an emphatic ear to experiences related to her by others, she then is gifted with an imagination and sensibility as vivid as any poet should possess. If on the other hand, they are the expressions of her own sensual experiences or a mix of both, still then, they are excellent poetic expositions of youthful sense and sensuality.

The poem titled ‘Youth’ makes one wonder if the sensuality unfolding in the work is indeed about missing one’s motherland while being away from her. The lines;

“I feel abandoned
By a lover called home,
Wanting to hold close.” …. hints at this possibility and gets one to wonder. A similar sentiment is revealed in the very next poem ‘Faithless and Forsaken’, where one wonders if the conflict depicted reaches beyond the personal to that of the social domain. Yet, all other work takes one’s mind to person-to-person type deeply sensual encounters making it difficult to such swaying away from the reality of the moment to that of any other.

A case in point is her opening poem ‘Kissing’, where a sense of touch and feelings of hope are skilfully ignited to create a proximity for the ‘reader’ to the event that unfolds. Unfolding in the same vein are poems that follow such as ‘Days of Lovers’, ‘Possibilities’, ‘Loving’ and ‘Fallen’.

All her poems in this work are presented in the first person, with emphasis on making the experience intimately personal. Although, I would do injustice to the poetess by wrapping them in bundles, I feel that the thread of sensuality that runs through each experience, each event and episode unfolds as if I was turning the pages of a book.

Enhanced by Dr. Sarath Chandrajeewa’s equally sensual illustrations on each page, the pages unfold a well laid-out tale told in verse cum visual form, where in my mind at times, the visual dominates. This makes me as a lay and conventional exponent of the poetic form, question the glamour and glossiness of the layout. To me, a poem is best when ‘left alone in verse’ for it to speak, shout or sigh within its own form. But then, we live today in a multi-media and a multi-dimensional world and if her publishers chose to add scented oil to the print ink to create a sense of time and place for the events on each page, I perhaps should not find fault with that.

Poems titled ‘Reluctant Lover’, ‘Fire’, ‘Green Eyed’, ‘Fence’, ‘Influence’, ‘Star-crossed’ and ‘My First’, I wrap in bundle two, where feelings of doubt and despair are cast in verse. Running in waves where expressions of doubt and anger alternate, the poems portray a sensual sadness and a fear of loss. The poem ‘Green Eyed’ is to me a tight, short and direct expression of anger aimed at the “other woman”, while ‘Influence’ attempts to create a similar but a deeper emotion but ends up with limited success. The poem ‘Fence’ to me borders on being melodramatic and could have had better treatment from the poetess.

The third and final bundle consists of poems such as ‘Virgin’, ‘Youth’, ‘Faithless and Forsaken’, ‘Luring Love’, ‘Unfaithful’… ‘An ending’ … ‘Memento’ …. ‘Butterfly’, ‘Sleep’ and ‘Hope’. Dealing with emotions of betrayal, hate, forgiveness and repentance, the predominant feel is one of internalising them. Portraying a see-saw of these emotions with carefully selected forms and words, Muthu has demonstrated a different form of sensuality to the adoring inspiration she brought out in her earlier work ‘Lal Gulab Zindabad’ (Good Bye Red Rose), a collection of poems written in memory of the late Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi.

This in no way is an exhaustive or comprehensive critique of the work ‘Life after Love’. Since poetry is an inspirational literary expression in the form of verse, its appreciation essentially is personal to those who read or hear it rendered. Muthu’s attempt here is at writing poetry that portrays sensuality and love. Some may question its social relevance and even discount this work as too inward looking. From someone who questioned the realities of her social fabric at age 19 with her second work ‘There are no more Rainbows’, I am confident that we can expect the right blend in her attempts in internalising the externalities of her and our worlds.

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