The Sunday Leader

Malinda The Poet

Malinda Seneviratne is a well known name in Sri Lanka for many reasons; being the Editor-in-Chief of a Sunday newspaper and his political views and also as a Poet.

Last week Malinda gained much deserved recognition by winning the Gratiaen Prize after being shortlisted several times. His winning collection of poems ‘Edges’ was published in December last year.  The first book of poems, ‘Epistles: 1984-1996’ came out in 1999.  Last week he published all the other Gratiaen submissions, five in all, four of which were shortlisted.

“I intend to edit and publish my translation of ‘Sansaraaranyaye Dadayakkaraya’ for which I won the H.A.I. Goonetilleke Prize. It’s long overdue.

I am halfway through translating Mahagama Sekera’s ‘Prabuddha’,” Malinda noted.

According to Malinda, he never wanted to be a writer and did not believe that writing was a vocation. “My parents read English for their degrees; my father is a very good poet and my late mother taught English Literature,” he said.

His sister, Ru Freeman, is a novelist and he says that his brother Arjuna, would be known as a better writer if he put his mind to publishing what he has written.  “The three of us probably benefited from the environment that our parents created; we were encouraged to read and there was a lot of informal discussion about books.  I wandered into ‘writing’ when I came back after dropping out of a PhD program and Manik De Silva, Editor of the Sunday Island asked me to join the paper and be his ‘understudy’, Malinda reminisced.

He says that he does not find himself ‘balancing’ his work as an editor and as a poet, as he says there is nothing to balance. “One is not ‘editoring’ all the time and neither is one penning poetry all the time. There are deadlines in newspapers and there’s a ‘moment’ that might pass and become ‘uncapturable’ when it comes to writing it down as poetry. Twenty four hours is a long time. One doesn’t balance breathing and having a cup of tea, having a conversation or sleeping,” Malinda said.

To him, poetry was something that made him stop in the middle of a sentence one day, meditate for a few hours and then decide he will write poetry and not prose. “We are partly products of what we read. I am a slow reader and big novels intimidate me for the sheer amount of time needed to go through them. Maybe that’s one reason that I read a lot of poetry.  The other reason is that I am enchanted by ‘lyricality’, be it in verse, song or prose.  For example, I remember the most poetic sections of Shakespearean plays. The same goes for, say, certain passages in Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ or Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’.  ‘The Little Prince,’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a piece of poetry, for me.  ‘Sansaraaranyaye Dadayakkaraya’ by Simon Navagaththegama is an epic poem.

I was also influenced by the work of Mahagama Sekera and many lyricists of an earlier generation as well as by the poetry of Pablo Neruda, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nazim Hikmet and the Sufi mystics.  I’ve tried my hand at writing novels.  Maybe I am lazy or too impatient.  I would love to write without interruption, but that’s not easy.  Maybe I don’t know how to pick up threads, plan the writing exercise or whatever it is that novelists use as techniques for getting by these realities, Malinda explained.

With regard to novels, there are those that speak to him in ways that some poems do not. “It all depends on the text before me. Good literature is embraced; it empowers, it makes us more tender at times. Poetry, though, does touch on things that are hard to be definitive about; it makes for a gazing that illuminates and provokes reflection. Novels do that too, but poems (and short stories) as someone once said, are like a flash of lightning at night that shows us a vast area but just for a fraction of a second. There’s something in that moment that is very different from a long gaze upon the same landscape. In Sri Lanka, only a handful of people would even know that I write poetry. I am never described as a poet,” Malinda noted.

When he was a schoolboy opportunities like the Gratiaen or the Galle Literary Festival did not exist. He says that it is events like these that have sparked a greater interest in English literature and encouraged more people to write and publish; this along with the internet which has also given more visibility to writers through blogs and social media.

On being asked whether he has any advice for those hoping to pursuing a literary career, he said, “Well, I would tell them to delete ‘career’ and embrace ‘literary’ if they ever encounter the term ‘literary career’.  That might help them hone their literary skills to the point where a ‘career’ might be a result,” Malinda said.

Edges, as well as other publications by Malinda are now available at all Vijitha Yapa and Sarasavi bookshops.

1 Comment for “Malinda The Poet”

  1. Ma Per

    Congratulations to a talented journalist.

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