New Trends in Eelam Poetry
"The origins of Sri Lankan Tamil poetry can be traced as far back as the Sangam
period, which speaks of a Sri Lankan Tamil poet called Eelattu Poothanthevanar.
Frontline 24 April 1999
But in the strict sense, modern poetry in Sri Lanka begins only
in the 1940s with the emergence of marumalarchi (renaissance)
writers such as Mahakavi, A. Kandasamy and Varadar. The two
anthologies published in the 1980s, Pathinoru Eelattu Kavignargal
(Eleven Sri Lankan Poets) and Maranathul Valvom, clearly show the
trends in modern Sri Lankan Tamil poetry since the time it sprouted
in the 1940s up to the early part of the 1980s.
But with the dawn of the 1990s, Sri Lankan Tamil poetry begins to
show some signs of new development. The younger poets who have been
bathed in the bloodstained waters of Eelam War II and III have given
an impetus and new dimensions to Tamil poetry.
In order to have a clear view of these trends in Sri Lankan Tamil
poetry, we must see these poets as poets belonging to six
generations on the basis of the time they started writing. To the
first generation belongs Mahakavi, who started writing in the 1940s.
Murugaiyan and Neelavanan, who began writing in the early 1950s,
belong to the second generation.
Mu. Ponnambalam, M.A. Nuhman, Shanmugam Sivalingam and Tha.
Ramalingam, who began writing in the 1960s, form the third
The Marxist-oriented poets such as Sivasegaram, Jesurajah and
Pushparajah come to the forefront in the 1970s and form the fourth
Jeyapalan, Cheran, S. Vilvaratnam, Elaval, Vijayendran and
Sabesan belong to the fifth generation.
The rest of the younger poets, who form the sixth generation, are
Solaikkili, Vasuthevan, Jabaar, Nilanthan, Aswagosh, Jeyasankar,
Atma, Rashmy, Elaiya Abdulla and Ahilan.
While taking into account the exile poets such as Natchathiran
Sevvinthiyan, K.P. Aravinthan, Balaganesh, S.P. Kaneshan,
Siththivinayagam, Govarthanan, A. Kandasamy and Chakravarthi, Vanni
poets who live outside the army-controlled areas in Sri Lanka have
also to be taken note of.
Even though it remains a closed area owing to various military
operations and bombardment, literary activity is still in progress
in the Vanni region.
An anthology of poems (Kaalam Ezhuthum Varikal - The Lines that
Time Writes) which was published in the early part of the 1990s
speaks of Vanni's valour; and the poets who contribute to this
valour are Kasianandan, Puthuvai Rathnathurai, S. Karunakaran,
Maithili Arulaiya, Eyalvanan, Major Bharathy, Captain Kasthuri, M.
Mylan, S. Umajibran, Elanthiraiyan, Chandra Bose, Suthakar, P.
Thayalan, Saththurukkan, Thuzhi, Akila, Suthamathi and
Sri Lankan Tamil poetry proper starts only with Mahakavi. Until then
it remained a reproduction of what was written in Tamil Nadu.
Mahakavi, being a realist of the first order, makes use of the
spoken language of the Jaffna person and makes the poetry stand firm
on its own soil, cutting off the unwanted link with Tamil Nadu. His
great work Oru Satharana Manithan Sarithiram (History of an Ordinary
Man) will, no doubt, stand the test of time. Although Murugaiyan and
the late Sillaiyoor Selvarajan are also considered major poets of
the 1950s, they are not as prolific as Mahakavi. They can be taken
as poets who are good at employing satire, sarcasm and parody in
Neelavanan, on the other hand, stands apart from his contemporaries
by blending both realism and a metaphysical touch in his works. His
poems reflect flashes of his spiritual inquiry.
Ponnambalam, Nuhman, Shanmugam Sivalingam, Jesurajah, Sivasegaram
and Pushparajah are the poets of the 1960s and 1970s. Except for
Ponnambalam, the others are Marxist-oriented. What is fascinating is
that they give a metaphysical touch to their poems of "socialist
realism", which until then remained simply a barren juxtaposition of
empty slogans. Ponnambalam greatly differs from these with his
spiritual philosophy and the experiments he does in chaining not
only the old verse forms but also the modern ones.
While the older poets remain traditionalists as far as form is
concerned, the younger poets are bent on breaking it to free
themselves from the shackles of traditional forms. Although
Ponnambalam, Shanmugam Sivalingam and Tha. Ramalingam belong to the
older group, it is they who take the initiative to break the old
verse forms. Ramalingam's two collections of poems
(Puthumaikkavithaigal and Kanikkai) can be taken as a breakthrough
in this direction.
With the publication of Cheran's Erandavathu Sooriya Uthayam,
Jeyapalan's Sooriyanodu Pesuthal, Vilvaratnam's Ahankalum Mugangalum
and Solaikkili's Eddavathu Naragam, the traditionalists who had been
dominating Sri Lankan Tamil poetry with their old verse forms were
left far behind and the free verse form which had been ridiculed by
traditionalists (specially by Murugaiyan) as broken verse has come
to stay as a new force.
The poets of the 1990s belong to the sixth and the present
generation who are very articulate and dynamic in the sense that
they speak of the experiences that are thrust on them. While
Solaikkili camouflages these experiences in his poetic allegories,
others take these as an inquiry into the self of the Tamil-speaking
society as a whole. This results in new poems filled with new kind
of "image philosophy".
The philosophy of the late
Thalayasingham is gaining ground in the Sri Lankan Tamil
literary field. Thalayasingam speaks about a new literature and art
which are going to destroy all the present art and literary forms
and this destruction would eventually lead to every piece of work
being seen as art.