Six decades of Sinhala poetry | Daily News

Six decades of Sinhala poetry

There is something unusual and distinct about poetry. Poetry in any context is hard to define, but somehow of the highest importance. As critics have often pointed out, the expectation with which we approach poetry is utterly different from the expectation with which we approach prose. This is more or less observed as a truth in the local context.

The folk poem for instance is more popular than any other literary genre as it embraces several social and emotional streams of expression. Over the years, Sinhala poems grew in strength and spirit as a result of the sensitive influence of folk poetry.

Those who toiled hard in the paddy field as well as the other areas of engagement took time off to voice their feelings via the sound of poetry. While that happened to be the breeding ground for the growth of Sinhala poetry more significant expressions too came way ahead.

In order to advocate the protest nature of the feelings towards the bonds of colonialism, the Sinhala poets made use of the poetic expression. These poetic messages are firstly seen in the poems of Ven S Mahinda Thera in his poetic works such as 'Nidahas Dehena' and 'Nidahase Mantraya'. The great Sinhala journalist Piyadasa Sirisena took over the same poetic message via the pages of his pioneering national newspaper 'Sinhala Jatiya'. More and more poets gathered round him with their minor and major Sinhala poems. Most of them come under the banner of Colombo poets or Kolamba Yugaye Kavi, with the stalwarts such as P B Alwis Perera, G H Perera and Munidasa Cumaratunga.

There were two observable streams. One was the print medium or instant poetic renderings called 'hitivana kavi'. This period is covered from 1947 to 1956.

Finally when Independence was declared in 1948, the poets saw a certain degree of their function as put to practice. More and more social factors entered the poetic scene. The poets happened to honoured and at times state awards were bestowed on them. In 1956, as an honour to the great poet R Tennakone for his presentation to the poetic field, he was given the honour of a poet laureate, called Maha Kavi. Each year passed as honouring Sinhala poets on the part of the local cultural ministry functions.

The second trend happened to be the poetic studies taken seriously on the part of the university education. The university dons inclusive of the living figure of Siri Gunasinha ushered in a new era. From the Peradeniya seat of learning he clamoured for a visible detour from the mere conventional forms of poetic creations.

The term 'nisandas' though does not sound a good literary term nevertheless mean the detour to bring in a period of free verse of nidas kavi. The poets of the calibre of G B Senanayaka, Gunadasa Amarasekara, became the rest of the pioneers in the group of free verse.

The composers had a social message, not in the form observed earlier, but with a more personal flavour of social comment. This trend was further elevated by poets like Mahagama Sekara, Madawala S Ratnayaka and others who changed their ideologies from the Colombo Poets' school .

This covers the period from 1960 to 1970, ushering in perhaps a genre unprecedented. With the dawn of 1970s, there took place a protest factor linked to poetry at large. More and more youths took to poetic creations in order to express a certain degree of agitation and protest unprecedented.

Thus, to a certain degree, the poetic compositions with their freer structures looked more politicalised from 1970s up to 1990s took another trend where the religiosity and the social nuances got blended. One of the major poets at this juncture happened to be Parakrama Kodituwakku, whose work 'Rashmi' set a classic example. Today we observe the blend of several poetic themes and structures. The poet has been in a sense globalised as a result influenced by several foreign works. Walt Whitman, Bertold Brecht, Khalil Gibran come to my mind as exemplary influences that sustain the creative impact in this direction.

As publishers point out, the output of poetic work from the younger generation abound the book publishing industry. Facebook too plays a vital role in the contemporary poetic expression. More and more Sinhala poets emerge from the cyber as a result of the gross technological ways. The Sinhala poetry, over a period of 65 years, had changed both from the thematic sense and structural sense embracing a multi-dimensional vision. 

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